When you dig a little deeper, though, you can understand why it was the type of performance that draws respect from his teammates and the coaching staff.
After all, nine pitches into the game, the D-backs right-hander was in real trouble.
A walk to Mookie Betts, a double by Freddie Freeman and another double by Trea Turner gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead with nobody out and a runner on second.
“That leadoff walk to Mookie, against a team like that, you can’t really afford to do that right out of the chute,” Kelly said. “First pitch to Freddie was a cutter that didn’t cut and just kind of left it over the plate and he put a good swing on it. The pitch to Trea I thought was a pretty good changeup at the bottom of the zone. He kind of beat it in the ground, just so happened to kind of sneak down the line to score those two.”
It’s the kind of game that can spiral out of hand in a hurry, especially against a team like the Dodgers, who had ace Walker Buehler on the mound. It was a moment that a veteran like Kelly knew called for slowing things down.
“Just try to take one pitch at a time,” he said. “At that point it’s just about limiting damage. Obviously with the team like that, they get two guys on in the first inning right away, you know, majority of time, they’re probably going to score at least one run. My goal there is to try to get out of the inning as quick as I can without giving up the house.”
And that’s what Kelly did.
Max Muncy flied out to left and Justin Turner hit a grounder to third baseman Geraldo Perdomo, who tagged Trea Turner and threw to first to end the inning.
That was all Kelly would allow until a two-out RBI double to Muncy in the fifth.
“Merrill was, I thought, after two quick runs, [he] was fantastic,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said.
After his first few pitches of the game, Kelly could sense that he didn’t have his best stuff.
“Didn’t feel the best today,” Kelly said. “Kind of one of those days that I’ve talked about before — it’s kind of a grinder of a day. So against that team, to be able to go six and keep us in the game, I was happy with.”
There was no inkling when he was warming up in the bullpen that his stuff was going to be less than sharp, but one thing Kelly has learned over the years is not to focus on how that bullpen session goes.
“It depends on the day,” he said. “Today was fine in the ‘pen. There were a couple of pitches that I didn’t like, but I try not to take the ‘pen into the game regardless of if it’s good or bad. Because I’ve had days that I’m money in the ‘pen and awful in the game, and I’ve had days that I’m awful in the ‘pen and really good in the game. So I try not to think of it. I tried to just use the ‘pen just to get ready for the game.”