Kennedy gets rematch with season on the line

Kennedy gets rematch with season on the line

MILWAUKEE -- Ian Kennedy has his wish: He has another crack at the Brewers, a second chance to win a playoff game and the responsibility of having the D-backs' season resting in his right hand.

After taking the loss in Game 1 of this National League Division Series, Kennedy will be back at it Friday against the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo in a decisive Game 5 at Miller Park.

Getting another chance after a losing postseason debut is all Kennedy could have wanted.

"It means a lot, just because it feels like every start in the postseason means even more than any start in the regular season just because of the magnitude of it," Kennedy said Thursday, on the eve of the most important start of his young career. "I'm just excited for the opportunity and hopefully we can end up on top."

The assignment also means that the last time Kennedy, a 21-game winner and breakout star this year, walks off the mound in 2011 won't be when he did so last Saturday in the seventh inning following a critical two-run homer by Prince Fielder that pushed Milwaukee to a 4-1 win in the opener.

One advantage Kennedy has going into Game 5 is that he has been there and done that now, having faced a hostile crowd on the road under the glare of the postseason stage. Then again, the 26-year-old ace said his first crack at October baseball was a lot like his 33 starts in the regular season.

"To be honest, it felt just like another game," Kennedy said. "The crowd's always on their feet [at Miller Park] anyway, so it didn't feel different than any other game."

Tale of the Tape: Game 5
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: .840 winning pct., best in MLB
Key stat: 1 ER in 15 postseason IP
At MILLER PARK
2011 reg. season: N/A
Career: 2 GS, 0-0, 5.68
2011 reg. season: 16 GS, 10-2, 3.00
Career: 59 GS, 31-15, 3.18
Against this opponent
2011 reg. season: 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00
Career: 4 GS, 1-1, 3.37
2011 reg. season: 2 GS, 2-0, 1.38
Career: 6 GS, 6-0, 1.18
Loves to face.: Casey McGehee, 0-for-7
Hates to face: Ryan Braun, 5-for-10
Loves to face: Chris Young, 2-for-16
Hates to face: Justin Upton, 4-for-12
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Hasn't lost two straight all season
Why he'll win: 3-0, 1.59 ERA, 45 K in last four starts, including Game 1
Pitcher beware: Struggled at Miller Park, including in Game 1
Pitcher beware: Allowed 27 HR this year, D-backs 4th in NL with 172 HR
Bottom line: Another crack at Milwaukee
Bottom line: Milwaukee's best

Now that he's in position to help push the D-backs to the next level, his teammates are supremely confident he's the perfect man for the job.

"I think Ian is the guy you want on the hill in Game 5 on an elimination game like this," closer J.J. Putz said. "I think everybody in our clubhouse is excited to go out there and see him do what he does."

As the series moved deeper, there were some who questioned whether D-backs manager Kirk Gibson should have considered Kennedy for Wednesday's Game 4 on short rest. Gibson went with veteran left-hander Joe Saunders, who wound up getting hit hard in three innings of work, allowing three earned runs on five hits and two walks.

Kennedy made it clear to his manager that he was ready for anything.

"For me, I was preparing as if I was coming back on the short days' rest," said Kennedy, who told Gibson that every day after his Game 1 start.

Said Gibson: "I think he was trying to let us know that he had a strong feel that he was prepared to do it if it was within consideration."

But Gibson stuck to his guns, knowing Kennedy moved his innings total to 228 2/3 for the season with his outing in Game 1 on top of the 222 he pitched during the season, which tied him for fifth in the NL with teammate Daniel Hudson.

Ultimately, it's all working out because now he has Kennedy primed for a make-or-break Game 5, and should anything go wrong early, the D-backs have Hudson on regular rest as well.

"As we sat and laid it out, if we can get to Game 5 in their environment with our No. 1 guy against their No. 1 guy, you couldn't ask for anything better," Gibson said.

Besides, we're talking about a franchise player here, an ace the D-backs plan to have around -- and healthy -- for a long time to come.

"If he ends up over 228 innings, I'm not going to shorten him up, I'm not going to do that to him," Gibson said.

After the way his Game 1 start went down, Kennedy is eager for the opportunity to move beyond -- far beyond, he hopes -- the 230-innings mark.

In Game 1, Kennedy said he had an uncharacteristic lack of command at times, and that's what got him into trouble more than anything. Whether it was the changeup to Jonathan Lucroy that gave the Brewers a two-run lead or the pitch to Fielder that pushed it to four runs, Kennedy make it sound like he wasn't blessed with his best stuff Saturday. He hit two batters, and his four earned runs allowed were more than he had given up in his last 15 starts.

But catcher Miguel Montero didn't grade out Kennedy's start that harshly.

"I had no complaints about the first game with Ian, and Friday hopefully he's going to be better," Montero said. "He just needs to stay under control, don't rush anything and make quality pitches."

Kennedy will be pitching on five days' rest this time around, after having six days between his final regular-season outing and his postseason debut. In Game 1, the dynamic duo of Ryan Braun and Fielder went a combined 5-for-8 with two doubles and a homer against Kennedy, doing most of that damage against some well-executed pitches.

But, in a sense, that's all history now. All that matters is Game 5, and Kennedy's getting another crack at postseason glory -- hoping for another one after that.

"I think just using that experience, just like any experience, you learn from it," Kennedy said. "You try to build and learn the positive things from it. I've definitely got the first one under my belt. And this one hopefully helps me my next start."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.