Kennedy happy with year despite inconsistency

— Diamondbacks pitcher Ian Kennedy opened the book on the team’s 2012 season on Opening Day almost six months ago, and Wednesday he closed it, capping 2012 with a hard luck loss to the Colorado Rockies, 2-1.

But the tale told in between was not the one the D-backs had hoped to write, nor was it quite the one Kennedy expected after finishing fourth in NL Cy Young voting last season.

“I was probably a little more inconsistent than I would have liked to be,” Kennedy said. “But if I look back on this season and even further back to last season, to win 36 games and throw 200 innings both years, that’s something I take pride in.”

Kennedy’s start against the Rockies on Wednesday, in which he allowed two unearned runs over seven innings, made two straight seasons that Kennedy pitched Opening Day and the team’s final game of the season. Only last season, Kennedy’s finale came in Game 5 of the National League Division Series as the D-backs lost to the Brewers.

Much has changed since that game, as the D-backs went from trendy World Series pick to also-ran in 2012. Entering the year, expectations were high for the club and just as high for newfound ace Kennedy.

After winning 21 games during his second season in Arizona, a similar effort was expected in 2012. Matching such an effort, though, is no small feat. Even legendary Diamondbacks hurler Randy Johnson posted back-to-back 20-win seasons just once.

“It’s not fair to think he’s going to go 21-4 again,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said Wednesday. “He could easily be close to 20 wins this year. … If you look at our record in close games, look at the way we performed close and late in high leverage situations and one run games, it wasn’t good.

“You don’t pin that on Ian Kennedy.”

Kennedy finished 2012 with a 15-12 record, giving him back-to-back 15-win seasons, which is an accomplishment in its own right. Kennedy takes pride in that, citing his idol Greg Maddux, who notched at least 15 wins in 17 straight seasons with the Cubs and Braves.

“I think every year when a starter say ’15’ (wins), you don’t realize until you start pitching that it’s hard to do,” Kennedy said. “It’s tough when you sit back and think about it, but I’m really happy with doing that.”
While Kennedy finished 2011 with an sub-3.00 ERA (2.88), he finished this season 1.14 points higher, just a shade over 4.00 — 4.02. Kennedy also finishes 2012 with 13 2/3 fewer innings pitched than he did a year ago.

More than anything this season, Kennedy struggled to find the command that served him so well in 2011. His fastball in particular was not as effective, often staying up in the strike zone too much.

“It was inconsistent,” Kennedy said. “It would be there on some pitches and then it would be way off, whereas (last year) I got a little spoiled. All my stuff would be there almost all the time. This year wasn’t like that.”

Between command issues and an inconsistent offense behind him, Kennedy went through up and down stretches — much like the D-backs did as a team. He opened the season with three wins in four games only to lose his next five. From mid July to early August, Kennedy won four straight starts but never found a groove as in 2011, when he won 13 of his last 16 starts.
Those ups and downs could be attributed to some of what Gibson described — a lack of comebacks, a 15-27 record in one-run games — and Gibson offered strong praise for his ace after Wednesday’s game.

“Ian pitched his tail off,” Gibson said. “Would I take the way he threw the ball this year next year? Yeah, of course I would. If we play a little better and do the things I talked about, address some of those needs, will he have more than 15 wins? Yes, he will.”

Though the D-backs did not come close to achieving what they wanted to in 2012, Kennedy considers the season a personal success, particularly in the frame of his past two seasons overall.

“I’m happy after I think about it that way,” Kennedy said. “It’s easy to get frustrated if you just look at this year — if I would have just had a better first half, some games here and there — but I still think of it two ways: I’m happy with how the results were and how I approached it, but secondly I don’t want to be content. I don’t want those bad games to be as bad.”

Kennedy clearly wants much more, for himself and the D-backs, and he’s got age on his side. Kennedy will be 28 on Opening Day 2013. Even at the young age, Kennedy will return as the veteran leader of a young rotation on the rise.

“I’m the old man,” Kennedy joked. “I’d like to play a long time in this game.”