Trio of young hurlers excelling for D-backs

Trio of young hurlers excelling for D-backs

PHOENIX -- In four separate three-game spans over the past month, the D-backs have employed a trio of twenty-something, rookie right-handed starters on the mound.

Namely, fast friends Ian Kennedy (age 25), Barry Enright (24) and Daniel Hudson (23).

"When I got here," said Hudson, who, in five outings since being traded from Chicago, is 3-1 with a 1.72 ERA, "I think the chemistry was good, because we're all closer in age -- the White Sox [had] more veteran guys -- and that's good for team chemistry -- guys with the same experience, same amount of time in the big leagues."

The proximity in years also causes healthy competition.

"When you're with your buddies, you want to be right with them or a little better than them," said de facto old man Kennedy, who has the most service time of the three but won't be a free agent until 2016. "Just like anything you do."

"If Huddy goes out and throws seven innings and [allows] one or two runs, you want to go do the same thing," seconded Enright, who in his first 10 Major League starts since his June 30 callup is 4-2 with a 2.73 ERA. "It's fun to have some guys around 23, 24, and 25 years old, to have that friendly competition and hopefully establish ourselves in the rotation for next year and for some years to come. Hopefully, [we'll] bring some special moments to this ballclub."


On Kennedy: "They call 'em the dog days for a reason. Ian has not performed quite as well in the second half as he did in the first; I don't think that's at all shocking given it's his first run-through of a complete Major League season."
-- interim GM and former big league hurler Jerry Dipoto

On Enright: "Sometimes I think people look for guys, big tall guys who throw 95, 96 miles an hour and they're overpowering, and they overlook guys like Barry. Barry is very smart. He's very well prepared. He knows how to pitch. He knows how to compete. He knows how to locate, and he's a location guy."
-- interim manager Kirk Gibson

On Hudson: "There are times you go out [to the mound] when guys get themselves in jams, and you look in a young pitcher's eyes, sometimes they'll have the deer-in-the-headlights [look], the heavy breathing. You go out [to Hudson], there's a very calming sense and demeanor to his body and his look."
-- pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.

The 25-year-old on Friday: 5 innings, 3 runs on 10 hits, 4 K's

As a young pitcher for the Yankees in 2007, before he was shipped to Arizona in a three-team deal that sent Max Scherzer to Detroit in December, Kennedy learned a valuable lesson from a then-39-year-old to whom he's often compared.

"Not even Mike Mussina, who pitched I don't know how many years -- at the end of his career, he was still trying to find ways to get better," Kennedy said. "I don't think you can be really content as a pitcher, because this game will get to you, somehow."

As it has to Kennedy lately. In nine games since the beginning of July, he has a 5.68 ERA, nearly two runs higher than the 3.77 mark he compiled through his first 16 outings.

That's where the dreaded pitch counts and inning totals come into play. D-backs interim manager Kirk Gibson and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. have been gauging both in an effort to protect Kennedy's young arm. Kennedy even asked out of his Friday start because he was leaving his pitches up, a sure sign that he was tiring, but told MLB.com the next day that he has felt fine and is confident in the exercises he does to keep his rotator cuff strong.

"People can say it's a long season, and you're getting tired," Kennedy said, "but it's just no excuse. That's how I feel."

The 24-year-old on Saturday: 6 2/3 innings, 1 run on 3 hits, 4 K's

When Enright battled and beat a Rockies lineup that had no MLB plate appearances against him, one man in the visiting dugout wasn't all that surprised. He had seen Enright before.

"He was my son's roommate at Pepperdine, so I know about the person and I know about the competitive nature of the person, and he displayed that," said Colorado manager Jim Tracy, whose son, Chad, is now in the Rangers' farm system. "From what I have been looking at from afar, when we have not played the Diamondbacks, I have seen it in other starts. [Enright] went out there and displayed his competitive nature in the same manner since I've know the kid since he was a sophomore or junior."

Those in the home dugout agreed. Nobody is more competitive, Kennedy will tell you. His intensity is unwavering, Gibson will insist. He's the most consistent strike-thrower on the club, catcher Miguel Montero can confirm.

All reasons why a sinkerballer just up from Double-A and without a changeup, a pitch he "lost" in the Minor Leagues, bested the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez and stared down the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg and the Giants' Tim Lincecum. (Enright is on schedule to draw Lincecum a second time, on Friday in San Francisco.)

"I think he likes [the challenge]," Gibson said. "He's the exception."

The 23-year-old on Sunday: 7 innings, 0 runs on four hits, 9 K's

Arizona's Adam LaRoche knows Hudson has performed well. Not just by watching him pitch, but by listening to the batters who face Hudson and are fortunate enough to cleat first base, like the six Rockies who reached safely on Sunday.

"They talk about how nasty he is," LaRoche said, "and how uncomfortable the at-bat is."

By the Numbers
Kennedy:
Has thrown 151 innings thus far in 2010. Threw one inning for the Yankees and 22 2/3 at Triple-A in 2009, affected by surgery to remove an arm aneurism.
Enright:
Is the first Major Leaguer to yield three runs or less in each of his first 10 career starts since the Blue Jays' Scott Richmond did so between the 2008 and 2009 seasons, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The D-backs' Brandon Webb accomplished the feat in his first 13 starts in 2003.
Hudson:
Has held opponents to just two hits in their last 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
-- Andrew Pentis

That's because, if you ask Stottlemyre, Hudson has the highest ceiling of the club's young-pitching triumvirate, already sporting "plus" -- or above-average -- fastball and changeup offerings. On Tuesday, he became the franchise's first hurler not named Randy Johnson or Dan Haren to record eight straight outs via the strikeout.

"He is not where, in my mind yet, he has a handle on his slider," Stottlemyre said. "When he gets that, I would say that he's got an opportunity to dominate."

According to one reporter's informal polling, none of four Arizona players asked had ever heard of Hudson, whom the White Sox selected in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft's fifth round, when he was traded westward on July 30. That quartet included backup backstop John Hester, who caught Hudson's eight-inning, one-run D-backs debut in New York on Aug. 1.

The 23-, 24- and 25-year-olds on Monday and Tuesday and ...

None of the three starters are finished products. Gibson and his pitching consigliore, Stottlemyre, have yet to see Enright or Hudson, for example, bounce back after a rough outing, as neither has allowed more than three earned runs in a start for the D-backs.

The skipper and his coach also can't know for sure whether any of their three hurlers have the fortitude to make 35 starts in a six-month span, when their arms aren't as fresh as they were in Spring Training.

"They don't have those same gears that they had in April and May," Stottlemyre said. "And sometimes they got to do it different. That's called pitching."

That said, the trio will have every opportunity to check off any remaining boxes. Interim general manager Jerry Dipoto called it a "forgone conclusion" that Kennedy (25 starts) and, despite smaller data samples, Enright (10) and Hudson (5) will serve as "the backbone" of a 2011 rotation that will almost certainly include arbitration-eligible Joe Saunders, though probably not free-agent-to-be Rodrigo Lopez.

So, 125 games through its slumbering 2010 season -- Arizona resumes play on Tuesday in San Diego -- the club has found three pieces it hopes will lead to more wins in the short-, mid- and, perhaps even, long-term future.

"That's how contenders are built, with the foundation of young starting pitching," Dipoto said, "and those three guys certainly give us a head start on that moving forward."

Andrew Pentis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.