Arizona Diamondbacks name fifth starting pitcher for Merrill Kelly

Merrill Kelly of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, Monday, March 2, 2020, in Scottsdale, Arizona. (AP Photo / Darron Cummings)

On Saturday, the Arizona Diamondbacks made it official: Merrill Kelly will be a starting pitcher on the 2020 season roster.

It was widely assumed that Kelly would take fifth place in the rotation following Mike Leake’s announcement that he would not play this season, but the Diamondbacks had not even publicly announced this to Kelly until Saturday.

“I’m excited about that … I love having that fifth day as your day, I love the preparation that goes with it and being a starter,” he told the media during a Zoom call.

“Definitely, some dominoes fell into the right places to be able to take advantage of that opportunity, but I plan to take advantage of that opportunity and make the most of it.”

With the announcement, the Diamondbacks’ rotation will be Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, Zac Gallen, Luke Weaver and Kelly in that order, manager Torey Lovullo said.

Left-handed pitcher Alex Young will become a bullpen.

Lovullo said during a Zoom call on Saturday that he and his staff had not made a decision on the final rotation until Friday night.

“We’ve all felt that (Kelly’s) has been throwing the ball extremely well during this summer camp,” said Lovullo. “He came in ready and prepared.”

Kelly’s 13 wins last season were one reason he was considered early, the manager noted.

As a 30-year-old rookie last year, Kelly was 13-14 with a 4.42 ERA.

He had a solid start to his MLB career, posting a 3.77 ERA through his first 20 starts, but imploded for the next seven, recording an 8.91 ERA during that period, a period in which he was later called up. Himself “probably the worst starter in the big leagues.”

He settled in September, recording three shutouts of seven innings in five starts.

“Trying to take the last game to the next, I think it was my biggest problem last year through that skid,” Kelly said. “I was going wrong and I was really trying to be better instead of just trusting what I did and trusting the preparation I did.”

This year Kelly will likely only have a dozen starts in the 60 games, intensifying the importance of not letting a poor performance tarnish in the next game.

Over six starts in June, Kelly had a 2.75 ERA in 39.1 innings. During six starts from July 23 to August 23, he had a 9.20 ERA in 29.1 innings. During his five starts in September, he had a 2.18 ERA in 33.0 innings.

You need your two six-game segments in 2020 to more closely resemble the two 2019 All-Star level peaks, and not the valley from July to August.

“Obviously, this season will be a little bit different just because it’s only 60 games, it’s a sprint, so I think the pressure could be on everyone a little bit more than usual,” he said.

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