Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly faces a tough task as he tries to rebound from a poor first start of the season.
Kelly (0-1, 6.75 ERA) will take the mound Thursday afternoon in one of baseball's most intimidating venues, Coors Field. He will oppose right-hander Jon Gray (0-0, 1.80 ERA) and the Colorado Rockies in the finale of a three-game series at Denver.
The teams split the first contests, with Arizona winning 10-8 in 13 innings Tuesday before Colorado prevailed 8-0 Wednesday.
Kelly struggled in his first start of 2021 on Friday at San Diego. He allowed three runs on five hits and three walks while striking out four in four innings. He threw 94 pitches due in large part to 23-pitch second inning and a 28-pitch third inning.
"Not great, not terrible. Felt pretty good in the beginning, felt pretty sharp," Kelly said after the Diamondbacks' 4-2 loss to the Padres. "Just too many pitches early in the game. ... Obviously, not going to be going too deep into games when you're throwing that many pitches early."
Kelly, 32, is in his third major-league season but is a graybeard in comparison to most players with that limited service time. He made his major-league debut in 2019 after a lengthy stint in South Korean baseball, and he finished 13-14 in 32 starts as a rookie for the Diamondbacks.
Thursday will be the fourth time Kelly will face Colorado and his third time pitching in Denver. He is 1-2 with a 7.64 ERA in 17 2/3 overall innings against the Rockies. He is 1-1 with a 7.71 ERA in his two outings at Coors Field.
Gray was pitching well in his first start Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers before leaving after facing one batter in the sixth. He shut out the defending champs through five innings, but full-body cramps forced him out of a game Colorado was leading 2-0 at the time. Los Angeles rallied to win 6-5.
"Even after the fifth, I thought I was going to be able to make (it through) seven, even with this going on," Gray said after the game. "I thought I could somehow manage it and stay out there. But it's something that, it's kind of risky, I guess. Because if there's a ball (hit to) me, and I really go after it, it can make it worse.
"The only thing I can think is I didn't eat enough carbs. I usually don't eat a lot on start days, but today I ate quite a bit. But it was so heavy protein-loaded."
Gray has had mixed results in 12 career starts against Arizona in the regular season. He is 4-5 with a 5.34 ERA against the Diamondbacks but has had more success against them when pitching on the road. He is 0-3 with a 7.80 in six starts against Arizona in Colorado.
Gray started one postseason game against the Diamondbacks, the 2017 National League wild-card game, and he was hit hard. He lasted just 1 1/3 innings and gave up four runs on seven hits.
One Diamondbacks hitter Gray might not get to face Thursday is center fielder Ketel Marte, who exited the Wednesday game due to a right leg injury. Marte got hurt running out a sixth-inning grounder.
"We're not exactly sure the extent of what is happening there right now," Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. "He's going to continue to be evaluated for the rest of the night and through the night and on into (Thursday)."
--Field Level Media