Kennedy coming around at right time

PHOENIX — The highlight of pitcher Ian Kennedy’s performance Monday night had to be his base-loaded, three-run triple with two outs in the fourth inning. It was the first triple of his career and put the Diamondbacks ahead of the Rockies.

The clutch hit stole the show in the D-backs 6-3 win, their fourth straight, but Kennedy’s second straight dominant outing was perhaps the bigger story in a season where the right-hander hasn’t been himself.

“Good pitching gets overshadowed when you hit a triple like that,” Kennedy said. “I just wanted to go out there (on the mound) and kind of do what we did last time.”

That the Kennedy of old — the one that won 21 games last season — may be re-emerging now is no minor development. The D-backs are trying to stay in contention and Kennedy will be paramount to them doing so. Kennedy had his best outing of the season last Wednesday in Cincinnati with eight innings of one-run ball and followed up with a start Monday only a tad less dominant.

In eight innings Kennedy surrendered two runs on five hits and struck out seven Rockies. He also issued no walks for the fourth time in twenty starts this season and the first time in back-to-back outings. It was also the first set of back-to-back eight inning outings by a D-backs pitcher since Kennedy did it June 11 and June 16 last season.

“He gave us eight innings, which was important,” D-backs manger Kirk Gibson said. “We’re trying to get our bullpen rested and in order.”

Kennedy has struggled much of this season to command his pitches, leaving him without the key component of his 2011 success. But in his last two outings Kennedy has found command of his fastball and changeup.

“It’s a big difference,” Kennedy said. “It makes it a lot easier when you’re hitting your spots. … My changeup is down instead of up. I just feel like my command all around has been better.”

Kennedy said commanding those pitches allows him more leeway with his off-speed pitches. He is still working to regain confidence his breaking ball, which he threw somewhat sparingly Monday and often in the dirt.

And then of course there was Kennedy’s triple. Rockies starter Jonathan Sanchez had already issued two walks in the inning when he gave Ryan Roberts first base, choosing to pitch to Kennedy with two outs and the bases loaded. Kennedy made him pay, driving a 1-1 change up deep into left-center field. It was the first bases-loaded triple by a pitcher in D-backs history.

“I haven’t hit the ball very good at all this year,” Kennedy said. “I just saw the ball and tried to make solid contact. It felt good to actually do something in that situation.”

With a little more pull, Kennedy might have had his first career home run and a grand slam. Regardless, it was the biggest hit of Kennedy’s career to date and brought in nearly as many RBI in one hit as he had all last season, when he knocked in a career best four runs.

“I’ve never seen him hit a ball that hard or far in (batting practice),” Gibson said. “And I’ve been here seven years and all of (Kennedy’s) years.”

Added D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt: “He’s a good hitter. It’s funny how he hasn’t had that many hits this year, but he always has good at-bats.”

The D-backs don’t expect Kennedy to get hits like that regularly, but they do expect him to routinely pitch like he did Monday. In fact, they need him to. He is the supposed staff ace and they need him to be down the stretch if the D-backs are to return to the postseason.

“He expects (strong starts) as well,” Gibson said. “It’s not going to happen every time, but it’s just good to see him throw back-to-back games with consistency.”