Arizona’s Merrill Kelly hopes to emulate St. Louis pitcher Miles Mikolas.
Kelly, 30, reached Triple-A during five seasons in the Rays’ organization, went to South Korea and won 48 games over four years with the SK Wyverns.
Mikolas won 31 games in Japan with the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants from 2015 through ’17, then signed a $15.5 million, two-year contract with St. Louis and went 18-4. The Cardinals rewarded him with a $68 million, four-year deal covering 2020 through ’23.
“I definitely paid attention to him a lot last year,” Kelly said. “I was checking the box scores. My goal was obviously to come back, and to see him go to Asia and dominate the way he did, and come back and dominate the way he did … I was definitely rooting him on.”
Kelly helped SK Wyverns win last year’s title under ex-Kansas City manager Trey Hillman.
“It’s an experience that I can look back on 20 years from now and say I am really glad I spent four years there,” Kelly said.
Arizona general manager Mike Hazen said the team had scouted Kelly in Asia and liked “the mix of pitches, the stuff, strike-throwing ability.”
Kelly was drafted by the Rays out of Arizona State in 2010. Primarily a sinker/changeup pitcher with Tampa Bay, Kelly said he threw more four-seam fastballs and curveballs in South Korea. He added a cut fastball to better attack left-handed hitters and also saw his velocity rise to the low- to mid-90 mph range.
The departures of Patrick Corbin and Clay Buchholz as free agents created opportunity to join a rotation headed by Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray.
“We’re going to count on him,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “I encouraged him to embrace those expectations and understand that he’s ready for these types of challenges. I think he is going to have a good year for us.”
Briefly: Boston pitcher Steven Wright will sit out the first 80 games of the season after testing positive for human growth hormone, a second suspension for the knuckleballer who missed 15 games last year for violating baseball’s domestic-violence policy. … Major League Baseball is investigating whether Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper committed a tampering violation when he lobbied for Mike Trout, who isn’t a free agent for two more seasons, to join the Phillies. … The Yankees’ Luis Severino expects to resume a throwing program in two weeks. He will miss his scheduled start on Opening Day (March 28) because of right shoulder inflammation. … Right-hander Jose Leclerc and the Rangers have agreed to a $14.75 million, four-year contract, a deal that covers the closer’s arbitration seasons.
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