SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Ian Kennedy and J.J. Putz used a “B” game Sunday to work on off-speed pitches that they would like to take into the regular season. Kennedy threw between 15 and 20 curveballs in five innings against a team of Giants minor leaguers, and Putz threw slider after slider after slider in his one inning.
Kennedy uses the curve to complement his primary fastball/changeup repertoire, and he has talked about throwing the breaking ball more often this season. The D-backs are all for it.
“Any starting pitcher, if you have three pitches you are a better pitcher,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “Two years ago he had it, and last year he lost his confidence with it. We are trying to get his confidence back with it for sure.”
The “B” game is a good setting to work on pitches because game conditions can be manipulated. Kennedy faced 16 batters and gave up only one single, and because of his efficiency, he pitched to an extra batter in the second, third and fourth innings, getting four outs each inning. He pitched his fourth inning in the stretch since he had not allowed a runner to that point. He threw 56 pitches, several times doubling up on the curve.
“I feel pretty comfortable with it. Nice and easy with it. I’m getting it over for strikes and I feel it better. I feel I can throw it up and down. Instead of throwing changeups like I normally would, I tried getting a curveball over when I was behind. If I threw it for a ball, I threw it again. It allowed me to throw more curveballs than I normally would. It was nice to work on things in a controlled environment,” said Kennedy, who has three more starts until he pitches the regular-season opener April 1 against the Cardinals at Chase Field.
“I’m happy where it (curve) is at. Next outing, I’m still going to throw it. Early on in camp, I wanted to work on throwing it more. The next three outings, just maybe get focused on getting ready for that first start of the year.”
Putz had good success with a slider as his third pitch to go with his fastball and a split-finger pitch when he had 76 saves in Seattle in 2006-07, and he wants to get back to it in order to put another thought in hitters’ heads. He got away from the pitch after right elbow surgery in 2009.
Like the cut fastball Putz added last spring, the slider has a similar late break. While Putz junked the cutter in late May because it hurt his mechanics, he said Sunday that the slider does not have the same effect on his delivery.
“I haven’t thrown it a lot here. After my surgery, I didn’t really throw it a whole lot. My arm feels good enough to start throwing it again. Started messing with it a little bit last year and kind of made it a priority this year. It’s not a cutter. It is not a cutter,” Putz said, making a point.
“I know it (cutter) hurt my mechanics. I was literally cutting everything off. A slider you can’t throw if you try to cut it off. It’s another pitch right off your fastball. Maybe I was a little bit timid and didn’t really want to mess with it, which quite honestly doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, because I’m sure the split-finger is way worse on my arm than the slider, but the split just seems natural to me.”
Of Putz’ 11 pitches, seven were sliders.
SKAGGS GOES FOUR
Tyler Skaggs gave up four runs in four innings in a 7-5 loss to the Athletics on Sunday, his second start of the spring. Skaggs gave up a two-run home run to Jed Lowrie in the third inning after giving up two runs on three hits and a walk in the second inning.
Josh Donaldson opened the second with a groundball single that ricocheted off diving first baseman Eric Hinske’s glove and was fielded by second baseman Josh Wilson, but Donaldson beat the play when Skaggs hesitated briefly after the ball hit Hinske’s glove. John Jaso also had a bunt single toward first that inning.
“As soon as Hinske dove, I kind of slowed down, thinking it was going to be a single,” Skaggs said. “Those are the mistakes you can’t have, though. You have to have those outs. You get those outs, they aren’t scoring any runs.”
Skaggs has given up nine earned runs and 14 hits in 9 1/3 innings this spring while competing with Patrick Corbin and Randall Delgado for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. He walked two and did not have a strikeout Sunday.
“Too many deep counts,” Gibson said. “He got himself in trouble when he did not cover the bag twice. Just kind of struggled with his command. We’d rather see him just throw the ball over the plate right now. Maybe just thinking a little too much. He’s throwing the ball much better. He gets into bad counts, he can’t just throw a fastball. He has to get that (curveball) over.”
Skaggs wasn’t particularly concerned about the results, though.
“Numbers mean nothing in spring training. It’s all about how you feel and what the coaches see. Basically, spring training is a confidence builder, and today just added to the confidence I have out there.”
NOTES: Oakland left-hander Brett Anderson, who joined the A’s in the Dan Haren trade with the D-backs in the winter of 2007, faced only two batters Sunday before leaving with a strained right trapezius muscle suffered when he twisted awkwardly while covering third base. With Adam Eaton on first base, Cliff Pennington reached on an error by third baseman Josh Donaldson. The ball did not go far, but Eaton sped for third when he noticed that the bag was uncovered. Anderson and Eaton got to the bag about the same time, and Anderson was unable to handle the throw. “That was a good play,” Gibson said. “We encourage him to be him. He has great influence on our offensive capabilities. He puts pressure on people.”