Merrill Kelly has been one of Major League Baseball's top pitchers over the last month for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Chicago Cubs experienced that firsthand.
The right-hander looks for a fifth straight winning decision when the visiting Diamondbacks continue their three-game series with the Cubs on Saturday.
Kelly (6-7, 4.46 ERA) has been Arizona's most successful starting pitcher in terms of victories this season, and he continues to draw reported interest around the majors as the trade deadline approaches. He's been extremely solid of late, going 4-0 with a 2.56 ERA in six starts since June 21.
Entering play Friday, Kelly's victories over that span were second-most in the NL.
"It's belief in the game plan, it's conviction with his pitches, and then trusting the guys around him," manager Torey Lovullo told the Diamondbacks' official website.
"He's locked in right now."
Kelly matched the longest outing of his career Sunday, when he lasted eight innings of a 6-4 victory over the Cubs. He struck out six without a walk and allowed six hits while pitching into the ninth. Kelly was charged with all four runs but was in the game when three scored.
Chicago stars Javier Baez and Kris Bryant each went 2-for-4 against Kelly last weekend. Baez clubbed a three-run homer for one of his two hits during the Cubs' 8-3 victory on Friday that snapped Arizona's four-game winning streak.
Baez is batting .392 with four homers and 15 RBIs over his last 13 games. Six of those RBIs came while going 7-for-17 against the Diamondbacks in 2021.
However, Baez, Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel are just some of the bigger Cubs names considered possible trade targets around the majors. With the club two games under .500, trade talk has been prominent around the team as the July 30 deadline approaches.
Though such rumors would seem to be a distraction, manager David Ross, at least publicly, does not think that's the case -- at the moment. Chicago has won twice in the last six games, but is 3-1 versus Arizona since the All-Star break.
"I haven't seen a lack of concentration," Ross told the Cubs' official website. "I don't think there's any extra conversations I have to have, as of right now. We'll see. We've still got a week to go."
Alec Mills (4-3, 4.64) is slated to take the mound for the Cubs on Saturday. The right-hander is 2-3 with a 3.45 ERA in six starts since becoming a regular member of the rotation in mid-June. Mills allowed a season-high five runs, but only one was earned, plus five hits and struck out six with two walks in just four innings of Chicago's 8-3 loss at St. Louis on Monday.
Though Mills will be making his first start against the Diamondbacks, he did throw two innings of scoreless relief at Arizona in 2018.
Neither Arizona's Pavin Smith nor Daulton Varsho have faced Mills. Smith, though, is 6-for-13 in his last four games, while Varsho is 6-for-11 with two home runs and five RBIs in his last three.
Arizona has just 11 wins this season on the road, where it's dropped 31 of the last 33.
--Field Level Media