Kennedy ready for first taste of postseason

Kennedy ready for first taste of postseason

MILWAUKEE -- A sellout crowd, chilly weather and a meaningful game. It certainly felt like the postseason to D-backs right-hander Ian Kennedy.

In reality, it was a September battle for first place with the Giants at AT&T Park.

"It was kind of intense, that was kind of a playoff atmosphere," said Kennedy, who outdueled Tim Lincecum in that game.

Kennedy's wife, Allison, was with him on the trip and the two had a long talk when he got back to his hotel room after the game.

"I was telling her that's what [the playoffs] were going to be like, or more," Kennedy said.

Kennedy is about to find out just what the playoffs are all about when he takes the mound against the Brewers on Saturday in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

The Brewers drew over 3 million fans this year, and Miller Park figures to be rocking come Saturday's first pitch.

"The playoffs are a totally different animal," Kennedy said. "I've got to experience that and it's something that the regular season can't hold. When you go to the playoffs, it's totally different."

Kennedy was asked Friday if he was feeling more nerves than he typically does the day before a start.

"I think when I go out there, that it will happen," he said. "But right now I'm trying to approach it as any other game. I know it's going to be a battle through the whole game, and it's going to be fun, just because it's the playoffs."

Kennedy was somewhat of a surprise choice when Arizona manager Kirk Gibson tabbed him to be the club's Opening Day starter, but after winning 21 games, he won't sneak up on anyone in October.

Tale of the Tape: Game 1
2011 Regular Season
Overall: 33 GS, 21 -4, 2.88 ERA, 55 BB, 198 K
Overall: 33 GS, 17-10, 3.52 ERA, 59 BB, 207 K
Key stat: First career playoff start
Key stat: 8.986 strikeouts per 9 IP (6th in NL)
At MILLER PARK
2011: N/A
Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 6.00
2011: 16 GS, 10-2, 3.00
Career: 58 GS, 30-15, 3.22
Against this opponent
2011: 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00
Career: 3 GS, 1-1, 2.70
2011: 2 GS, 2-0, 1.38
Career: 5 GS, 5-0, 1.20
Loves to face.: Casey McGehee, 0-for-7
Hates to face: Ryan Braun, 2-for-6
Loves to face: Chris Young, 2- for-13
Hates to face: Justin Upton, 3-for-9
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: D- backs have won last seven of his starts
Why he'll win: 2-0, 1.77 ERA with 36 strikeouts in last 3 starts
Pitcher beware: Struggled at Miller Park last August
Pitcher beware: Allowed 27 HR this year, D-backs 4th in NL with 172 HR
Bottom line: Step up on big stage
Bottom line: Milwaukee's Best

One advantage Kennedy has is that he's difficult for an opponent to plan for because he can throw any of his four pitches -- fastball, cutter, curve and changeup -- at any time.

"His location with his secondary stuff is as good as his fastball, so when I'm catching I'm more than comfortable calling offspeed stuff in 3-2 counts or 3-1 counts because I know he can throw it for a strike," D-backs catcher Miguel Montero said. "That's huge. It makes me so comfortable to know that I can call any pitch at any time.

"I can't tell you who he reminds me of that I catch before because he's just different, but he looks like a Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina type guy."

That's pretty heady company for a 26-year-old, who just finished his second full season in the big leagues.

While scouts might not grade any of Kennedy's four pitches as plus-plus, they are all average to above average.

"Everything just works off his fastball and he pitches in all four quadrants," fellow starter Daniel Hudson said. "He doesn't overpower guys, but it looks like he does the way guys swing at it. And that's just because he works all four quadrants of the strike zone very well and that makes his other three pitches that much better because he's able to change eye levels."

Kennedy agrees that everything works off his fastball, but ask him what his next best pitch is and he struggles to find the answer.

"Some days it's my changeup, and some days it's my curveball, and it might change by batter," Kennedy said. "The cutter is more of a contact pitch, and I've gotten a lot more ground balls out of it. It's nice having those options."

Kennedy was acquired by then-GM Josh Byrnes, who thought the four-pitch mix would make Kennedy, at worst, a mid-rotation pitcher.

"His changeup is good enough to use against right-handed hitters," Byrnes said. "He can really use his pitch mix and execute at a very high level."

The more experience Kennedy has gotten, the more he has learned how to stay strong throughout a full season.

Former Arizona pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. encouraged Kennedy to back off on his between starts bullpen work last year, and after initially resisting the suggestion, Kennedy adopted it. The result has been increased velocity and stamina.

"I couldn't keep up that throwing routine and be able to pitch on the fifth day at 100 percent," Kennedy said. "I felt like there was some fatigue in the past in the July and August stage. I minimized how many pitches I throw in the bullpen in between starts, I listen to my body more. The lifting and the running stayed the same."

It is a preparation routine that Kennedy will keep consistent despite the bigger stage.

"I'll try to treat it like any other game, to be honest," he said. "I know there's going to be a little more adrenaline when I'm out there, but normally there's not going to be much different in preparation. I feel like what I did in the regular season should be all right."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @dbackswriter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.