PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Merrill Kelly was cruising right along with one out in the sixth inning. He had thrown 75 pitches to that point with Buster Posey up to bat for the Giants.
Posey singled, and the next two runners reached. Suddenly, with the bases loaded, Kelly’s day was done.
But Yoshihisa Hirano, throwing almost exclusively splitters, got Brandon Crawford to strike out and Kevin Pillar to fly out. It preserved a win situation for Kelly and the D-backs’ slim 1-0 lead; two huge outs when his whole team needed them badly.
The D-backs went on to win 7-0 on Friday, but the game didn’t become a blowout until after Hirano’s critical outing.
“There were two really impactful parts of this game for me,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “One was Yoshi coming in with the bases loaded and one out and getting two huge outs to close out the sixth, and then [Eduardo] Escobar’s triple down the right field line broke this game open [in the seventh].”
Hirano entered Friday with a 5.65 ERA on the season, a significant step back so far from his 2.44 clip last season. That could just be a product of the league “figuring him out” now that he’s in his sophomore season after coming over from Japan. Even in his final 18 appearances of 2018, his ERA was 3.95 with a 1.536 WHIP.
Lovullo described Hirano’s 2019 season as inconsistent, both in his performance and in the way the D-backs have used him.
“The opportunities that he’s gotten haven’t been the most perfect situations for him,” Lovullo said. “I know that he had expectations to be in games where we were only ahead, but I’ve used him in a lot of different roles. … But we’re looking to get him on a roll and it seems to be trending in that direction.”
Maybe Friday’s clutch performance was a boost for him in 2019, but either way, it set up the bottom of the inning when the D-backs scored two important runs. They’d tack on four more in the following inning to get out to a 7-0 lead.
Hirano remained in the game to pitch the seventh, getting two more outs and then exiting after 23 pitches. It was a much-needed outing from a member of the D-backs bullpen, which had a 4.77 ERA this season to rank 22nd in MLB entering Friday.
“I just felt like it was a good matchup,” Lovullo said, adding that they felt Crawford was vulnerable to splitters. “It just worked out extremely well and it pushed Yoshi in a very positive direction. He gave us two big outs the next inning and he threw the ball really well.”
MERRILL KELLY STELLAR AT HOME
Kelly’s final line was 5.1 innings, no runs on six hits, one walk and four strikeouts. His ERA on the season is now 4.21, but his ERA at Chase Field in his rookie MLB year is now 2.67.
“I put myself in some tough situations, guys in scoring position there, but I was able to make some pitches, and get out of it” he said. “[Alex Avila] did a great job calling pitches back there, was on the same page for the most part the whole night.”
He also gave credit to Hirano, who was responsible for stranding Kelly’s three runners and keeping his shutout intact.
“I was pumped, for a couple reasons,” Kelly said. “One, obviously because those are my runs on base. But more importantly is because they had bases loaded, one out, and he didn’t let anybody score. I’d say that was probably one of the biggest if not the biggest spots in the game and he did an incredible job getting out of it.”
D-BACKS ATTACK GIANT BULLPEN
Incredibly, Giants starter Jeff Samardzija had thrown only 55 pitches through five innings but was knocked out of the game in the following inning. After walking Jarrod Dyson, retiring Escobar and intentionally walking David Peralta, a double by Adam Jones made it 2-0.
The margins were far less narrow when the D-backs faced the bullpen, which allowed one of Samardzija’s runners to score to make it 3-0.
Then, in the seventh inning, the D-backs sent nine hitters to the plate against Derek Holland, who was recently demoted to the bullpen out of the San Francisco rotation. In that inning, the D-backs scored four runs on three hits, a walk, a hit-by-pitch and an error.
Escobar hit a 3-RBI triple and Adam Jones went 3-for-4 on the day with a double. David Peralta reached safely in three of his four plate appearances. Wilmer Flores, who entered the game in the seventh inning, went 2-for-2 with a double and has hit .381 with two home runs, 12 RBI and four doubles since April 26.
LOVULLO EARNS 200th WIN
The D-backs’ win on Friday was Lovullo’s 200th as the manager of the D-backs. He became the third-fastest active manager to reach the mark, behind only Dave Roberts and Ron Gardenhire. It took Lovullo 368 games to reach that mark.
The 2017 NL Manager of the Year is in his third season with Arizona and has recorded 93, 82 and 25 wins each season, respectively.
“It means a lot to me, but it means that I have good players and a lot of great moments,” Lovullo said. “And 200 wins is something that I’m very proud of. I’m not going to lie. But the players are more responsible for that than I am.”
–Zack Godley will start on Saturday. Lovullo had implied prior to Friday’s game that that would not be the case if the team had needed Godley during Friday’s contest. They did not use him, and he’ll get the start.
–Dyson took a pitch off his hand during a bunt attempt in the seventh inning. He stayed in the game to run, but was removed as a defensive change in the following inning. X-rays were negative and he was diagnosed with a left hand contusion. He is expected to be available on Saturday.
–Dyson stole a base for his 12th on the season, which leads the NL. He has five stolen bases in his last three games, and on Wednesday became the first player in D-backs history to have two stolen bases in two straight games.