Merrill Kelly

From BR Bullpen

Kenneth Merrill Kelly

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

Starting pitcher Merrill Kelly began his professional career in 2010. After toiling five years in the minors of the Tampa Bay Rays organization, he went to South Korea and was a successful pitcher for four seasons (Jamie Romak was a teammate during a couple of those years). Then he came back to the U.S. to make his major league debut.

He was originally drafted out of high school by the Baltimore Orioles in the 37th round of the 2007 amateur draft, but did not sign. He was 15-1 in two years of junior college. He was then taken by the Cleveland Indians in the 22nd round of the 2009 amateur draft, but again did not ink a contract. Transferring to Arizona State, the Houston native was 10-3 with a 4.23 ERA. He finally signed when he was taken by the Rays in the 8th round of the 2010 amateur draft, one pick before Jabari Blash. The scout was Jayson Durocher.

Kelly has advanced about one minor league level each season, beginning his career at Low-A in 2010 and reaching Triple-A for the first time in 2013. He split his first summer between the Hudson Valley Renegades (1-1, 2.11 in 7 G) and the Bowling Green Hot Rods (0-1, 7.16 in 5 G). He was 8-7 with a 3.28 ERA for the 2011 Charlotte Stone Crabs. He was 6th in the Florida State League in ERA, between Jonathan Pettibone and Nate Baker. He had a 8-3, 3.57 record for the 2012 Montgomery Biscuits, used primarily in relief. 2013 was perhaps his best season to that point, as he went 13-8 with 111 strikeouts and a 3.64 ERA in 28 games (26 starts) for the Biscuits (5-6, 4.15) and Durham Bulls (8-4, 3.19). He allowed only 128 hits in 158 1/3 innings. He was third in the Rays chain in wins (behind J.D. Martin and Matt Buschmann), tied Jake Thompson for first in losses, was third in IP (behind Buschmann and Martin) and was 5th in strikeouts (111, between Enny Romero and Blake Snell). In 2014, Kelly went 9-4 with a 2.76 ERA in 114 innings for Durham.

He signed to play with SK Wyverns of the Korea Baseball Organization in 2015 and went 11-10 with a 4.19 ERA in 30 games (29 starts). Back with the club in 2016, he went 9-8 with a 3.81 ERA in 29 starts and in 2017, he was 16-7 with a 3.60 ERA in 30 starts. In 2017, he led the league with 189 strikeouts (28 ahead of reigning MVP Dustin Nippert). Following the 2018 season, he returned to the United States, signing a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks for two years and $5.5 million. He made the D-Backs' opening day roster and was a winner in his major league debut on April 1st. He started the game against the San Diego Padres and pitched six solid innings in a 10-3 win. He was then relieved by Jon Duplantier, who was also making his big league debut. In his second start on April 7th, he gave up just 1 run in 8 innings, walking none and striking out 9, but a solo homer by Mitch Moreland of the Boston Red Sox was enough to tag him with a 1-0 loss. On June 12th, he blanked the Philadelphia Phillies over 7 2/3 innings to lead Arizona to a 2-0 win. This improved his record to 7-6 while lowering his ERA to 3.73. He finished the season at 13-14, 4.42 in 32 starts, logging 183 1/3 innings and striking out 158 batters. He led the National League in losses.

He made just 5 starts during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but they were good ones as he went 3-2, 2.59. However, he pitched poorly in 2021, which was a very trying season for the D-Backs as a whole. He went 7-11, 4.44 in 21 starts, his ERA+ falling to 94. he did strike out 130 batters in 158 innings. In 2022, he had a bounce-back season as he was clearly Arizona's best pitcher. He was named the National League Pitcher of the Month for July when he went 4-0, 1.31 in 6 starts, pitching at least 6 innings in each of his starts. He finished the season at 13-8, 3.37, leading the NL with 33 starts and finishing 5th in innings pitched with 200 1/3 innings, for a team that finished well below .500. He followed that with another very solid season in 2023, going 12-8, 3.29 with 187 strikeouts in 177 2/3 innings. That helped to get the D-backs into the postseason, where he was excellent: he won a game in both the Division Series and NLCS, then in Game 2 of the World Series on October 28th pitched an absolute gem, with seven innings of three-hit ball in a 9-1 win over the Texas Rangers.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 1 (2022)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Paul Casella: "Kelly thrills D-backs -- and grandma -- with dazzling Game 2 start",, October 28, 2023. [1]
  • Steve Gilbert: "Kelly to pitch where he paid to watch Phillies",, October 13, 2023. [2]

Related Sites[edit]