PHOENIX — Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo was asked before Wednesday’s matinee against the Yankees — just hours after Zack Greinke pitched into the eighth inning and allowed one run on Tuesday — who the pleasant surprises on the team have been this season.
After sifting through a few names, including Christian Walker and Luke Weaver, Lovullo added Merrill Kelly’s name to the pile.
The No. 5 starter entered the season with zero games of MLB experience, having pitched in Korea for the past four seasons after playing minor league baseball and never getting the call up from Triple-A.
Contrast that with the staff ace, Greinke, a Cy Young winner who put up an astonishing 1.66 ERA just a few years ago. Greinke took the mound on Tuesday night, going 7.2 innings and allowing one run on five hits, a walk and seven strikeouts.
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But in a two-game series against the Yankees this week, the Diamondbacks benefitted from quality pitching from both players.
Kelly and the Diamondbacks got the win on Wednesday, 3-2, to sweep the Yankees in the two-game series at Chase Field.
“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster,” Kelly said of his young MLB career. “From where we started in spring to having the debut and the first couple outings after that to where I am now, I’m definitely happy with it.
“I feel like I definitely could be better, just the way I feel and the way the ball’s coming out, I think I can do a better job. But with the results that I’ve had and how I feel, I’m satisfied with it for now.”
Kelly, who entered the game with a 3.94 ERA through his first five major league starts, went just 5.1 innings, but also allowed only one run and at one point retired seven in a row. He allowed five hits and two walks, and when he found himself in a bases-loaded jam in the fifth (the D-backs failed to finish a would-be inning-ending double play), he got out of it.
The only run Kelly gave up was a solo home run to lead off the sixth from Luke Voit, his ninth of the season.
Part of the reason the Diamondbacks (18-13) have had the success they have is because of those pleasant surprises, Kelly being chief among them. That Kelly has lowered his ERA on the season to 3.60 and has allowed four or more runs in a start only once so far is a testament to how much he’s gotten off on the right foot.
“It’s been great,” Archie Bradley said. “Everyone wants to — which, understandably — talk about losing Corbin, losing Goldy, and exactly what we hoped would happen. Guys have stepped in and filled those voids. I’m not saying they’ve taken those guys’ places by any means.
“But for never, ever pitched in the big leagues, Merrill’s done a hell of a job so far.”
On the offensive side on Wednesday, the Yankees went to the bullpen early after the D-backs scored three runs off Masahiro Tanaka. A two-run second inning with base hits from Christian Walker, Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed got the first runs on the board, and Marte homered in the fourth to make it 3-0 at the time.
Lovullo went to the bullpen somewhat early, too, given that Kelly had allowed only one run and thrown 90 pitches, but a Gleyber Torres double ended his outing. Yoshihisa Hirano came on in relief and got two quick outs to end the frame.
Yoan Lopez, Andrew Chafin, Bradley and Greg Holland all pitched thereafter, but Lovullo will have an off-day on Thursday to rest his entire bullpen. He admitted that the off days on either side of the series were a consideration in using his bullpen more generously.
Because Bradley gave up one run, Holland got the save in what became a 3-2 game. Holland still has not allowed a run in 11 appearances this season.
“I thought Merrill was really good, made a couple of mistakes and one of them was hit for a solo home run,” Lovullo said. “And then the bullpen was outstanding. think our bullpen does a good job coming in and executing game plans. They’re fearless.”
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