Photography: Jordan Megenhardt
By Greg Dillard
After much anticipation, the D-backs have finally selected a pitcher to serve as their Opening Day starter on April 1 against Colorado.
One year after fighting through Spring Training attempting to crack the Major League roster, Ian Kennedy now finds himself receiving the honor of starting the first regular season game of 2011.
“You know it’s a possibility, but I knew I had a couple people in front of me,” Kennedy said. “It’s just a big honor. It’s something you dream about as a little kid. You want to be that Opening Day guy. It’s a big honor. I’m at a loss for words.”
Last season was Kennedy’s first year in Arizona after being acquired from the New York Yankees in an offseason trade. In 2009, Kennedy missed an extended amount of time due to aneurysm surgery and pitched in only one game at the Major League level.
As a new D-back, Kennedy did not disappoint by quickly establishing himself as a mainstay in the starting rotation. He notched nine wins and a solid 3.80 ERA in his 32 starts. In his first full season in the big leagues, Kennedy managed to throw a career high 194 innings.
He capped off a strong first season by allowing two runs or less in six of his last nine starts. Of those nine starts, Kennedy pitched at least five innings in all but one of them. The right-hander notched 168 strikeouts, a rate of 7.8 per nine innings.
For Kennedy, he entered this Spring with a different approach compared to years past.
“Coming in here last year, (I was) trying to make the team,” Kennedy said. “This year, just happy that I can treat Spring Training like most guys on the roster treat Spring Training and not try to make the team. Just trying to get ready for the season. I knew the Opening Day spot was kind of up for grabs. So that was in the back of my mind that it was possible.”
This will be Kennedy’s first career Opening Day start, and he is the sixth D-backs pitcher to start on Opening Day, joining Andy Benes, Randy Johnson, Javier Vazquez, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. The D-backs are confident that he is the right man for the job.
“He pitched very good for this ball club last year,” General Manager Kevin Towers said. “He finished strong, almost logged 200 innings. He’s a pitcher. I mean this guy has four pitches. He throws them all for strikes. He’s a guy that I don’t think will have any fear for being an Opening Day starter. He’ll probably look at this start like any other start.
“He’ll go out and give you everything that he has. I’m looking for him to have some success out there. Happy for him, that’s quite an honor for a young pitcher that’s got less than two years experience in the big leagues.”
Young heating up at plate
D-backs outfielder Chris Young is capable of hitting almost anywhere in the starting lineup. Young not only has experience in the leadoff spot, but throughout the middle part of the order as well.
On Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants, Young was penciled in manager Kirk Gibson’s leadoff spot. In the bottom of the first, Young unloaded on a Madison Bumgarner pitch and smacked it into the lawn seating in left-center field.
After walking in his second at bat, Young laced another extra base hit in the fifth inning, this time a double off of Giants pitcher Guillermo Mota.
With two more hits against the Giants, Young is heating up at the plate this Spring, hitting .316 with two home runs and five doubles. The recent success has been the result of a calm approach and plenty of work for Young.
“Just trying to see the ball,” Young said. “I’ve been working a lot on my approach at the plate and in my path with my swing with (Don) Baylor quite a bit. Just trying to stay calm and patient at the plate. I’ve really been trying to see pitches this Spring and not get too aggressive.”
Young’s play earned him All-Star honors in 2010 when he represented the D-backs in Anaheim. He finished the season with impressive numbers including 27 home runs, 91 RBI and 33 doubles.
Young hopes that consistency at the plate will help him duplicate his 2010 success.
“I did kind of find my swing per say last year, and it’s a better feeling going into the offseason knowing what you feel like you need to work on,” Young said. “This offseason I stuck with my approach, and I feel like I have it down better right now even than I did last year. So hopefully I’ll get good results from it.”