Lincecum, Kennedy square off in SF-Arizona opener
The game between the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks has just about everything a season opener needs.
Rivals that expect to contend send a pair of the National League's best pitchers to the mound - two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum for San Francisco and Ian Kennedy, 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA in a breakout season a year ago, for Arizona.
A capacity crowd at Chase Field will watch Friday evening's nationally televised contest, the opener of a three-game set that Lincecum says is not just any old series.
Arizona clinched the NL West with a victory last Sept. 23 over a San Francisco team that was coming off a World Series championship in 2010. The Giants remember watching that celebration.
''It's one of those things to maybe get some redemption early on if it falls that way, but it's still early on in the season to the point where we're going to run into them a bunch of times,'' Lincecum said. ''It's not do or die but it's something where we want to make a statement.''
Lincecum is coming off the first losing season of his major league career at 13-14, but he had a better ERA than Kennedy at 2.74. Against the Diamondbacks, though, the San Francisco ace had big trouble. In four starts against Arizona, he was 0-3 with a 4.32 ERA. Kennedy, on the other hand, was 3-0 with a 1.22 ERA in five starts against San Francisco.
Kennedy is Arizona's season-opening pitcher for the second year in a row and he wants to avoid the game's hype as much as possible.
''Because it's against the Giants, at home, it is going to be a little bit more for our players,'' Kennedy said. ''For myself, I will try to keep it at a minimum. For myself, it is that first inning and trying to get through the first. I like pitching nice and cool and calm.''
Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said he expects to limit Kennedy to about 90 pitches.
''I don't want to just go blow it out right now,'' Gibson said. ''It's a long season. Our bullpen will be ready to throw.''
San Francisco's expectations are bolstered by the return of catcher Buster Posey, the 2010 NL rookie of the year who was lost for the season last May 25 in a horrific home plate collision with Florida's Scott Cousins.
''You miss all of it,'' he said. ''You miss being on the field, you miss the guys, you miss the crowd. You just miss the game in general. You miss everything about it.''
Posey may not be 100 percent recovered from injuries to his left ankle and leg, but said he feels ''really, really good.''
So do the Diamondbacks, whose worst-to-first run last season earned manager of the year honors for Gibson in his first full season on the job. Now the challenge is to keep up the team's gritty, blue-collar, never-say-die attitude that led to a major-league best 48 come-from-behind wins last season.
''That's what we want to be,'' he said. ''You get pressured. It depends upon how you react to it. That's what it's all about. It will be a great test of character.''
Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn't want to make too much of the season-opening series. After all, there are 159 games to follow.
''To start with, it's going to create some interest really for both clubs,'' he said. ''We think we're a better club, an improved club, and they are too. They had a great year last year. We look forward to getting the season going and the fact we're playing them, we know we're going to have to turn it up a notch because that's a very good ball club.''
So good that some ''experts'' are picking Arizona to make it to the World Series.
''`I hope they're right, but they don't know what they're talking about,'' Gibson said. ''I mean, I don't know what I'm talking about. Nobody does. I'm here to tell you, think of all the people who make predictions. What percentage of them are right? It's fodder. It's fun.
''We would be lying if we didn't say it was a compliment to us. At the same time, we all understand that we're far from there. It's going to be a long, hard-fought battle.''
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.