With a team-high 26 starts, right-hander Merrill Kelly has been a staple in the Diamondbacks’ rotation this season, but he may be on his way to their bullpen. The Brewers steamrolled Kelly over 4 1/3 innings on Friday, scoring six runs on eight hits and four walks (with five strikeouts), and Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo suggested afterward they could pull him from their rotation, per Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic.
A former Rays farmhand, Kelly immigrated to Korea prior to 2015 and posted quality results in the KBO over the ensuing four seasons, which convinced the Diamondbacks to hand him a two-year, $5.5MM contract last December. Kelly has looked like a wise investment for most of 2019, evidenced by the 3.77 ERA he possessed as recently as July 18, but his output has declined since then. Having allowed six-plus earned runs in three of his past six starts, Kelly now owns a 4.86 ERA/4.77 FIP with 7.32 K/9, 2.58 BB/9 and a 40.7 percent groundball rate in 146 1/3 innings. Home runs have been particularly problematic for Kelly, who has surrendered 1.6 per nine and has given up two or more on four occasions since July 23.
Despite Kelly’s troubles in the past few weeks, he has still been a rare consistent presence in Arizona’s rotation thus far. The club traded ace Zack Greinke to Houston at last month’s deadline, leaving it with Kelly and the now-injured Robbie Ray as its only hurlers with 20-plus starts. The emergent Luke Weaver has been out since late May with forearm problems, meanwhile, and Taijuan Walker hasn’t pitched since early 2018 on account of Tommy John surgery and a shoulder strain.
The Diamondbacks are now down to Kelly, deadline acquisitions Mike Leake and Zac Gallen, and Alex Young in their rotation, though Ray could come off the IL this weekend. Even with Ray, that’s not the most inspiring group, which helps explain why the Snakes have faded from playoff contention as the season has progressed. They’re a game under .500 (64-65) and 5 1/2 out of a wild-card spot.