Kennedy getting in a groove, as are D-backs
PHOENIX -- Ian Kennedy appears to be settling into the sort of groove that enabled him to win 21 games last season. Just in time.
Kennedy has won three straight starts after making a few mechanical tweaks, and even giving up three bases-empty home runs to the Mets’ Ike Davis could not dim his mood after the Diamondbacks’ seventh victory of the homestand, a 6-3 win that brought the D-backs another game closer to the Giants in the NL West.
Davis hit bases-empty homers in the second, fourth and sixth innings, the first two on fastballs that struck the batter's eye at Chase Field.
“The third at-bat, I hung a curveball to try something different,” Kennedy said to laughter.
“I threw good ones and he fouled them off. I hung one, and it still didn’t make a difference. I can laugh about it now. It’s almost jaw-dropping. ... I’ve never given up three to the same guy. He made SportsCenter.”
For Kennedy, it's all about fastball command, and that starts with finding a consistent release point. He and pitching coach Charlie Nagy got together after an 8-1 loss to the Cubs in the first game after the All-Star break, and they seem to have found a fix.
Kennedy’s fastball is staying down, and he is getting ahead of hitters, which makes his changeup and curveball that much more effective.
“It was kind of getting frustrating, especially after that start in Chicago. I watched things on film and tried to think of drills we did in the past. Kind of bearing down on things,” Kennedy said.
“Everything builds off that fastball. When you have the release point down, you have the off-speed stuff.”
Kennedy has given up six earned runs in 22 1/3 innings in his last three outings while striking out 23, including nine Saturday. He slammed his glove in the dugout when he was removed with a 6-3 lead with one out in the seventh inning after throwing 107 pitches, but he said afterward not to read anything into it.
“Gibby (manager Kirk Gibson) knows we are all competitors. It’s always frustrating when you come out in the middle of an inning,” Kennedy said.
“If I'm ever happy with coming out in the middle of an inning, then I should probably stop pitching. That’s just the competitive part of us that we don’t ever want to come out, really.”
Kennedy traditionally has gotten stronger as the season has gone on, and if the trend continues, he could be a difference-maker as the D-backs (52-50) chase the Giants and Dodgers in the NL West and L.A., Pittsburgh, Atlanta and St. Louis in the race for the two wild-card berths.
Kennedy (9-8) is now 21-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 36 career starts after the All-Star break. He will miss the Dodgers on the D-backs’ 10-game road trip that begins Monday, but he is scheduled to face both the Phillies and Pirates in the final two series on the trip.
His second-half success probably has a lot to do with his work ethic and his time spent in the weight room, but he had no ready explanation.
Catcher Miguel Montero, who has caught 19 of Kennedy’s 21 starts this season, also is on a hot streak, taking his turn picking up the offense.
Montero had a two-run homer in a three-run fourth inning to give the D-backs a 6-2 lead after walking and scoring from first base on Ryan Wheeler’s double to the fence in right-center field in a two-run second.
It was an inning of firsts. Montero’s homer was his first hit in six at-bats against Mets starter Chris Young, who lasted only four innings. Wheeler’s double was his first major league extra-base hit.
Since July 7, Montero is 21 for 61, a .344 batting average, with four doubles, three home runs and 15 RBIs.
“He is swinging the bat well,” Gibson said.
Gerardo Parra had three singles and two RBIs and Aaron Hill had an RBI double as the D-backs reached six runs for the seventh time in an offensive-minded homestand that ends against the Mets on Sunday. The D-backs have 65 runs and 87 hits in nine games and had their own three-homer guy just a week ago, when Jason Kubel hit three against the Astros on July 21.
The D-backs will continue to take all the offense they can get, but Kennedy is pitching as if he will not need as much going forward.