SCOTTSDALE – The Arizona Diamondbacks clubhouse at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick was filled with excitement for today’s World Baseball Classic final between Team Japan and Team USA.
The main reason? The starting pitcher for Team USA is one of their own, Merrill Kelly.
The right-hander with Arizona ties will be handed the ball in the biggest game of his life for Team USA with an opportunity to be remembered for a great performance, or dismissed for a poor one.
The opportunity is a rare one and Kelly will look to seize the moment the best he can.
“We are all going to be watching very closely,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “We are going to be cheering and rooting for Merrill. It’s such an incredible accomplishment for him. He’s ready for this challenge. He can jump into any environment and execute pitches at a very high level.”
Catcher Jose Herrera, a Venezuela native, understands the importance of representing your country on the international stage, and although he was not selected for Team Venezuela this year, he was more than excited to talk about Kelly.
“It’s great for us to see him on the big stage, and what a great moment for him being able to represent his country in a special moment like the championship,” he said. “We’re super excited to see him and support him tonight.”
Excitement for Kelly was a common theme around the Diamondbacks clubhouse. Shortstop Nick Ahmed is entering his fifth season as Merrill’s teammate and has been with him since the right-hander debuted in MLB in 2019.
“We’re all fired up for him and we’re so excited to watch him do his thing out there,” Ahmed said. “Hopefully, he keeps guys off balance and pitches like he always does with us. If he doesn’t try to do anything different, he’ll have a good game.”
Rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll has only been a teammate of Kelly’s at the MLB level for a little over a month but was already confident in his ability to perform on this stage.
“I don’t think he needs any words of encouragement. I think he’s going to go out there and pitch a great game,” Carroll said.
Encouragement may not be needed for Kelly, but a sense of pride for both his pitching repertoire and country will be a necessity to defeat a tough Japan team that features arguably the best player in baseball, Shohei Ohtani.
While Kelly will need to carry pride in his country and his pitches, his MLB manager over a thousand miles away is also feeling a tremendous sense of pride in one of the most reliable arms on his staff.
“I am so proud of Merrill, so proud of his ability and where he’s gone, too,” Lovullo said. “He’s pitching on maybe one of the biggest stages. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.”