Kennedy finds niche, calling with D-backs
Going for his 20th win, right-hander at ease in his surroundings
PHOENIX -- Every so often, Ian Kennedy tries to take a step back and realize what a wonderful ride he is on.
The D-backs right-hander will go for his 20th win of the season Monday night against the Pirates at Chase Field, but despite his level of success this season, he has flown under the radar in many ways.
It's a spot that the 26-year-old Kennedy has been in before.
Coming up with the Yankees, Kennedy was overshadowed by fellow pitching prospects Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes.
Then he was traded to the D-backs and found himself on a team that lost 97 games, so his emergence in 2010 as a solid big league pitcher went largely unnoticed.
Even this year as the wins started to pile up, it wasn't until an East Coast road swing in late August that Kennedy started to garner some national attention.
All of that is just fine by Kennedy, who would prefer to just go about his business away from the cameras and microphones. After watching what has happened to Chamberlain and Hughes, he realizes that success can be fleeting.
Chamberlain had early success and attention only to struggle and then get injured -- done for the season because of Tommy John surgery -- while Hughes is still trying to live up to the lofty expectations.
"It's funny how quick it can disappear, and that's what I've learned from the whole thing," Kennedy said. "You don't want to get too absorbed in it, because it could just vanish. I feel like if I can just take a step back every other game or something like that and just enjoy what I have at that moment and not look too far ahead, I feel like I have more fun and enjoy that part. This year, I haven't looked too far ahead to the playoffs or anything like that, but just each and every start and just enjoyed what we're going through as a team. Right now, it's been a lot of fun."
Kennedy, the Yankees' first-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, burst onto the big league scene in 2007 and was impressive in three starts that season, going 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA.
The following year, he found himself shuttled between Triple-A and the Majors. Kennedy, who struggled to an 8.17 ERA with the Yankees, missed the majority of the 2009 season after having surgery for an aneurysm near his right shoulder.
"I feel like I'm two different people. In between starts, I just try to stay happy and enjoy it. I've always been [intense] when I'm competing, though. I hate losing more than anything. Each and every pitch, I get very competitive."
|-- Ian Kennedy|
Kennedy pitched in the Arizona Fall League following the 2009 season, and one of the many baseball people in the stands to watch his starts was then-D-backs general manager Josh Byrnes.
Byrnes had long been a fan of Kennedy, going back to the hurler's days at the University of Southern California. As a former assistant GM in Boston, Byrnes realized the pressure that gets placed on young players, particularly pitchers, in a market such as New York, and felt a change of scenery would really benefit Kennedy.
That offseason, Byrnes managed to work out a three-team deal with the Yankees and Tigers to acquire Kennedy, and though he was not around to reap the rewards of the deal -- Byrnes was dismissed on July 1, 2010 -- the move has paid big dividends for the D-backs, who certainly would not be atop the National League West without Kennedy at the head of the rotation.
"He looked healthy and had added the cutter, so we thought he had four very solid pitches and good command," Byrnes said of what he saw that year in the AFL. "We thought he was a solid Major League pitcher. He's probably turned out better than we expected, but we certainly felt we were getting a good pitcher."
Kennedy throws a fastball, cutter, curve and changeup, and while none of the four would grade out as a dominating pitch, all four are average to above average. And more importantly, Kennedy can spot them with precision.
"His location with his secondary stuff is as good as his fastball, so when I'm catching, I'm more than comfortable calling offspeed stuff in 3-2 counts or 3-1 counts, because I know he can throw it for a strike," D-backs catcher Miguel Montero said. "That's huge. It makes me so comfortable to know that I can call any pitch at any time. "
It is that kind of unpredictability that makes opposing hitters cringe.
Kennedy has a bit of a split personality. Off the field, he's soft-spoken and extremely polite. On the mound, though, he is all about winning.
"You get that guy on the mound, and he's a bulldog," fellow D-backs starter Daniel Hudson said. "He's been that way more this year than last year. You can just see on the mound his confidence, I would almost say swagger. He's hopping off the mound after he strikes guys out. It's been a lot of fun to watch this year, he's been unbelievable."
Kennedy smiles sheepishly when the dichotomy is pointed out to him.
"I feel like I'm two different people," he said. "In between starts, I just try to stay happy and enjoy it. I've always been [intense] when I'm competing, though. I hate losing more than anything. Each and every pitch, I get very competitive."