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Kennedy truly appreciates Opening Day nod

Kennedy truly appreciates Opening Day nod

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Kennedy truly appreciates Opening Day nod
DENVER -- As he battled through a difficult 2008 season that saw him struggle in three separate stints with the Yankees, Ian Kennedy was looking for something to grab onto.

One day when his wife, Allison, was reading her Bible, she came across Jeremiah 29:11 and showed it to her husband.

"For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

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"It really became close to me," Kennedy said of the verse. "I just really clung to that, because it was really tough at that time. What it helped me realize is that what He was putting me through was not too tough to handle. The next year, getting hurt, I still knew it was His plan and it was something that I had to go through."

When things go wrong during a game, Kennedy does not need to look far for a reminder of the verse. Rather than have his name stitched into his glove, he has "Jeremiah 29:11" there instead.

"That's when I feel I cling to God the most, is when I go through rough times," Kennedy said. "I'm thankful for the good times, but it's the rough times where I feel like I grow a lot."

Kennedy's struggles in 2008 and his subsequent surgery for an aneurysm in his right arm the following year help him to appreciate what it means to be the Opening Day starter for the D-backs against the Rockies on Friday at 1:10 p.m. MST.

Kennedy was chosen in large part for what he accomplished in 2010, when he went 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA in 32 starts after being acquired from the Yankees in a three-team deal during the Winter Meetings.

"I always believed I could pitch at the big league level," Kennedy said. "My first full year, all I really wanted to do was learn how to pitch at the big league level, and then by the end of the season apply the stuff I had learned early in the season."

Talk about a change of circumstances. While the Yankees struggled to fill out the back end of their rotation this spring, Kennedy was on his way to securing the No. 1 spot in the Arizona rotation.

"It's just crazy to see how it transitions like that so quickly," Kennedy said. "That's why I really appreciate where I am now to where I was. It's just something I'm very thankful for."

When former general manager Josh Byrnes acquired Kennedy, there were plenty of commentators that questioned the move. Doubts have always been something Kennedy has had to deal with in his life.

Rather than discourage him, though, they have served as motivation.

"I think all the way back to high school, when people told me I was too short to pitch in the big leagues," said Kennedy, who stands six-foot. "The short thing kind of went away, but not totally. Then, when I got drafted, they said I would be a four or five starter. I was like, 'OK.' It just fuels things. You just try to prove people wrong."

At age 26, Kennedy is somewhat young for an Opening Day starter, but both manager Kirk Gibson and GM Kevin Towers said they believe he is mature beyond his years and should not be fazed by the assignment.

While Kennedy draws comfort from his faith, he also receives strength from Allison, whom he dated when the pair were both at the University of Southern California. Initially, Allison, who is expecting the couple's first child, was not going to travel to Denver for the opening series, but her plans changed once Kennedy was told he would be starting the opener.

"It will definitely be nice to have her there," Kennedy said.

Opening Day can seem like a big deal, but in reality it is just one of 162 games, and the first of what Kennedy hopes will be another year of 32-plus starts.

"I think I always want to do better," he said. "I want to be one of the best pitchers in the league. I want to be one of the guys where, when you say my name, you think reliable and consistent pitcher, not a guy that's up and down. I feel like that's what really good pitchers do."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @dbackswriter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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