Kirk Gibson has already announced that Ian Kennedy will start for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Opening Day when the St. Louis Cardinals come to Chase Field April 1.
While Kennedy has more than earned the right to start his third consecutive opener for the D-backs, the former 20-game winner is coming off a season to forget in 2012.
In 2011, Kennedy was lights out (222 innings, 20 wins, 2.88 ERA and 1.09 WHIP) as the anchor of a rotation that helped Arizona claim a surprising National League West title over the San Francisco Giants. For his efforts, Kennedy finished fourth in Cy Young voting.
But in 2012, the right-hander regressed quite a bit. The proclaimed ace of the staff struggled to pitch late into games as he had done a season earlier, and in the process saw his numbers take a noticeable hit. In 33 starts, Kennedy set new career-highs in losses (12), ERA (4.08) and WHIP (1.30).
"There was probably some carry over effect from the workload he had in 2011, pitching into October and not just the 30-plus starts but postseason appearances," D-backs general manager Kevin Towers told Arizona Sports 620's Dough & Wolf Wednesday. "He threw a lot of innings trying to win that Cy Young Award, and there was probably a carry over effect."
While Kennedy had his fair share of struggles in 2012, Towers said he's optimistic the 28-year-old can get back to pitching at an elite level.
"With every year, you get more experienced and a little bit more knowledgeable about opposing hitters, knowing the league, knowing the ballparks, knowing the umpires and their different strike zones," said Towers. "I can see that maturation with him, and I don't think we've seen the tip of the iceberg with him. He's only going to get better."
Kennedy, who has played parts of six seasons with the D-backs and New York Yankees, has predominately relied on two pitches (fastball and changeup) throughout his career. According to Towers, Kennedy's maturation on the mound in 2013 may involve a new addition to his repertoire.
"The one thing I've noticed so far this spring is that he's working on his breaking ball a lot more," said Towers. "Last year and probably in 2011, he was more fastball and changeup. I think he's now trying to put that third pitch in the opposing hitter's head.
"He's working more on throwing a quality breaking ball. He's always had one but hadn't had to use it much. Having another weapon in his arsenal is only going to help him."
In two starts this spring, Kennedy has looked sharp, giving up one unearned run in five innings of work.