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Kennedy seeks consistency, better adjustments

Right-hander says preventing momentum swings key to regaining 2011 form

Kennedy seeks consistency, better adjustments play video for Kennedy seeks consistency, better adjustments

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When the 2012 season came to an end, D-backs right-hander Ian Kennedy immediately began preparing for 2013.

Sure, Kennedy had a fine season in 2012. He was 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA and he made all of his 33 starts, tying him for most in the National League. Respectable numbers for sure.

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More, though, was expected from Kennedy after a breakout 2011 season that included 21 wins, a 2.88 ERA and a fourth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

And the person with the highest expectations for Kennedy is Kennedy himself.

"It was a matter of not pitching to my potential and knowing that," he said.

Kennedy will start Monday's 7:10 p.m. MST opener against the Cardinals, his third straight Opening Day assignment and one he's been looking forward to ever since his final outing of 2012.

"I want to prove to myself that I can do better than I did last year," Kennedy said. "I worked a little harder, I spent a little more time this offseason. It's not that I didn't work hard the year before, but this year there's just this desire to prove that I'm better than last year, that I can be more consistent."

That's one word that could not be used in conjunction with Kennedy last year.

A four-start stretch in June was a microcosm of his season. He tossed six shutout innings on June 5 and followed it up by allowing six runs in 5 2/3 innings in his next start. He rebounded to allow just two runs in eight innings in the next start before dropping off again five days later when he allowed five runs in just 4 1/3 innings.

"It definitely was a battle all the way through the season," Kennedy said. "From start to start it changed. I'd feel great, I'd feel bad."

As he spent time in the offseason thinking through what it would take to recapture the form of 2011, he came up with a pair of things.

First, he had to find a way to level out those ups and downs.

"It's about not letting innings get out of hand or not letting things get out of hand on days when I don't feel as good," Kennedy said. "I know I can do a better job of managing that. Whether that's preparation, or just as I'm out there just be more aware of how I'm feeling and when momentum starts changing, just slow it down, slow that snowball."

When Kennedy refers to feeling good, he's not talking so much about physically, but rather about having his good command and being able to locate his pitches. In other words, his fastball would be up, or his breaking ball would be bouncing in the dirt, he'd be cutting off his changeup and he would not be able to make the needed change.

"During those outings, I view it as immature of me not to realize that and adjust during the game," Kennedy said.

Rather than stop an inning or situation from spiraling out of control, Kennedy tried to put his head down and push through it. Upon reflection, he realized a more effective approach would have been just the opposite.

"When you go almost too slow at times like that, it works out in your favor," Kennedy said. "You breathe better and it helps you get things going back in your direction."

The second thing he vowed to improve on was having his breaking ball ready earlier in the season. He threw it more often in games this spring in an attempt to make sure it would be sharp right when the season opened.

"I felt like I was basically pitching with two pitches -- fastball and change -- for the first two months," Kennedy said of last year. "You can survive off those, but to have great games or to come through on those days you're not feeling so good, to have that third or fourth pitch makes the difference."

Kennedy feels good about the progress he's made, but the real test of his winter of reflection and spring of work will come April 1 when he takes the mound against the Cardinals and the regular season begins.

Typically, Kennedy's wife, Allison, is at all of his home starts, but Monday there will be more family than usual in attendance. Allison's parents are from St. Louis and are big Cardinals fans, so they will be in town for the series.

They've been told they are not allowed to wear Cardinals gear to the games and there's is another rule as well.

"They're not allowed to sleep in the house," Kennedy said. "We've got tents set up in the backyard for them."

He's kidding, of course, about the tents, but he's dead serious about performing better in the season ahead.

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

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{"event":["opening_day" ] }
{"event":["opening_day" ] }