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Merrill Kelly Continues His Journey With Sharp Spring Outing

The D-backs defeated the Cubs 7-5 in Cactus League action at Salt River Fields

Merrill Kelly stood on the bullpen mound warming up today when he suddenly took a trip down memory lane.  "When I was warming up I had some flashbacks, some deja vu of my very first spring training game back in 2019, just warming up for it, kind of just where the journey has taken me."  That Journey has taken Kelly to very near the top of his profession, as he's been a top 10 starter in the National League over the last two years, and was a standout in the postseason, going 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 24 innings. 

Torey Lovullo, who was in full agreement that Kelly is indeed a top tier pitcher in the league, touched on Kelly's journey as well.

 "It has been a long journey. He was a 30 year old rookie. It was still very new to him. I think he was managing his own personal expectations and what was he going to be able to do, coming in here, pitching for his home town team. I think there was a lot of nervous energy that went into the first several outings of that year. He certainly got grounded, he figured out how to execute on a high level, follow a game plan, which has led to an incredible amount of success and we would not be where we are right now without him"

Kelly was making his first start of spring training,  having thrown over 200 innings last year for the second consecutive year. The team has opted to slow play his and Gallens buildup. Kelly responded by pitching two scoreless innings, retiring the side in order both times. He needed just 21 pitches, throwing 16 for strikes. He used all six of his pitches and looked sharp, despite a couple of warning track fly balls.  His velocity and movement were all on par with his season averages from last year. Kelly went down to the bullpen during the third inning to throw 14 more pitches to get his work in, bringing his total for the day to 35. 

Lovullo said Kelly was "pretty dominant in the strike zone, he was shaping a quality slider against right-handed batters. For his first outing, two really clean innings, he looked fantastic.....Just seeing him up there and being able to say that's one of dudes"

The D-backs, who won the game 7-5, dodged a bullet when Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was hit on the base of his left hand with a pitch by Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks. Gurriel let out a loud yell, and dropped to one knee for a while before being removed from the game.

Fortunately Gurriel said he was fine afterwards, although he admitted it was a scary situation. He had a wrist protector on and the ball got just a little bit under the protector. It's the same left hand that required surgery to remove the hamate bone prior to the 2022 season, adding to the anxiety of the moment.  Lovullo said that it was a left hand contusion, but Gurriel did not get an x-ray.  Gurriel will probably still get an off day tomorrow. 

Kevin Ginkel got into his first Cactus League game. He came down with a sore elbow early in camp and the team has taken their time getting him back in the flow. He gave up a homer to Mike Tauchman on a center cut fastball, but then retired the next three batters on ground balls. His velocity was only 0.6 MPH less than his season average for last year and his spin rate was comparable.  Ginkel said he felt good physically and is confident he'll be able to catchup by the start of the season. 

Paul Sewald also pitched, and his velocity was up slightly from his previous outings, but still 2.3 MPH off his fastball velocity from last year. He only threw four changeups among his 15 pitches. Sewald is working on that pitch to try to give a different look to left hand hitters. Lovullo seemed optimistic about the pitch. "I think it's a quality pitch" he said. "He can get some easy contact outs, it's not one of the two that the league knows about, (his fastball and sweeper), I think it could be a very effective weapon for him" 

Joc Pederson had a big day at the plate, smacking a two run  opposite field homer to left. He also had an RBI single in a four run Diamondbacks fourth inning. Lovullo praised the team's opposite field approach and quality at bats throughout the game. They rapped out 11 hits in total, including six singles in the 4th inning. 

Miguel Castro had a rough day, giving up three runs, two of them earned , while retiring just one batter. He wasn't helped by an error on a dropped catch by Geraldo Perdomo on a throw from Ketel Marte on a force attempt. Castro was picked up by Humberto Castellanos, who got the last two outs of the inning and  threw 2.2 scoreless innings in total,  giving up just one hit.  Castellanos, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery,  has yet to give up a run in four spring appearances covering 7.2 innings.

Logan Allen pitched the final two innings, giving up a solo homer in the 9th that closed out the scoring. Prior to the game Lovullo said that any pitcher still in camp that is stretched out as a starter is a candidate for the 5th rotation spot, and that included Allen.