Ian Kennedy and the Arizona Diamondbacks won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season.
The Diamondbacks were the surprise NL West champions last season, outpacing the defending world-champion San Francisco Giants, and Kennedy was one of the main reasons. Entering spring training, he’s being looked upon to again help lead the way.
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Kennedy knows he set the bar high for himself last season and is aware it won’t be easy duplicating his successes, which included a 21-4 record.
”It would be hard,” Kennedy said. ”You have to have a good team behind you. As long as I can do my part, and that is to go out there and give my team a chance to win, that is the only thing I can control.”
The 27-year-old Kennedy finished fourth in the voting for the NL Cy Young Award. He finished the season with a 2.88 ERA and his 21 wins tied the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw for the most victories in the National League. The .840 winning percentage was the best ever for a Diamondbacks starter. Prior to the 2011 season, Kennedy was 10-14 in the major leagues with a 4.33 ERA.
”When you have that comfort factor and that confidence in your team and things you learned, you get a little bit better,” Kennedy said. ”I felt like I was the same pitcher. I did learn some things the year before which I did apply, like my throwing program. I actually backed off more than added. It helped me go into August and September feeling fresh.”
Arizona acquired Kennedy from the New York Yankees in a December 2009 three-way trade with the Detroit Tigers and New York. Detroit received Austin Jackson and Phil Coke from the Yankees and Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks. The Yankees received Curtis Granderson from the Tigers, and the Diamondbacks also received Edwin Jackson from the Tigers.
The trade boosted all three clubs. Detroit got a leadoff hitter in Jackson, a quality starter in Scherzer and bolstered their bullpen. The Yankees got one of the top hitters in the American League in Granderson, who batted .304, hit 41 home runs and led the league in runs scored (136) and RBIs (119). The Diamondbacks got a top-notch starter in Kennedy.
For Kennedy, it was an opportunity to pitch regularly and excel.
”They were going to give me a chance to learn, fail and succeed at this level,” Kennedy said. ”I felt like the experience and being out there the whole time helped.”
With Kennedy anchoring an improved pitching staff, the Diamondbacks should again be one of the favorites in the NL West.
Daniel Hudson also had a strong 2011 season, going 16-12 with a 3.49 ERA. He will be slotted in the number two spot in the rotation.
Trevor Cahill, picked up in an offseason trade with the Oakland Athletics, veteran left-hander Joe Saunders (12-13, 3.69 ERA) and Josh Collmenter (10-10, 3.38 ERA) will provide more depth and reduce some of the pressure on Kennedy to replicate last season’s success.
”It is unfair to say Ian has to win 21 games. If he wins 16 and Hudson wins 20 and we make the playoffs, who cares?” Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said. ”I think Ian expects to go out and give us a chance to win every game, which I expect he will do. To sit here and say he should win another 20 games is not fair to him.”