Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas
So it was highly-touted Ian Kennedy’s first start of the year for the Yankees on Friday against the not-so-lowly-anymore [Devil] Rays. Knocked out of the box in the third inning, Kennedy was panned for a terrible performance by virtually everyone who covered the game (and, in today’s world, virtually everyone who didn’t cover the game but commented on it anyway). He gave up six earned runs on four hits and four walks in only two-and-a-third innings. Every highlight show that covered the game (on Friday night and Saturday morning) showed pinch-hitter Shawn Riggans’ three-run double on a 3-1 pitch, the final nail in Kennedy’s coffin, at least for this night. Terrible, right? Well, let’s take a closer look at it (stay with me on this one).
You can’t really expect a young pitcher like Ian Kennedy to get many borderline calls from the home-plate umpire (Doug Eddings). But Kennedy, known for great control and not known for tremendous velocity, is going to need some calls to be a good major-league pitcher. He got off to a tough start when both his 0-1 pitch and 2-2 pitch to leadoff-hitter Aki Iwamura were called balls, when either, if called a strike, would have changed the complexion of the at-bat. Other pitches to Crawford, Upton and Floyd were also borderline and called balls. Welcome to the big leagues!
Kennedy had a 1-2-3 inning in the second, despite, once again, a borderline pitch called a ball to Jason Bartlett. Then, the roof caved in. In the third, after a single, a groundout and a walk, Kenned y was squeezed on both an inside and outside pitch to BJ Upton. Despite that, he threw a great 3-2 pitch to Upton, jamming him, but Upton beat out the weak groundball that he hit to the left side.
Kennedy’s best pitch might be his two-seam fastball that he throws inside to left-handed hitters. The batter gives up on it and it runs back over the inside corner. For those of you who seriously follow the game, it’s the Greg Maddux pitch (Maddux has made his living off that pitch). Now, with the bases loaded and the still-dangerous Cliff Floyd up, Kennedy threw him the Maddux pitch, close but called a ball. At 2-2, he threw Floyd a pitch near or maybe over the outside corner, called a ball. Then, not giving in, he threw ball four for the first run of the inning.
Now, pinch-hitter Shawn Riggans comes to the plate (starting catcher Navarro had been injured). The 1-0 pitch to Riggans, which could have been called a strike, was called a ball outside. Then, the 2-1 Maddux pitch over the inside corner (believed to be a strike by all the Yankee announcers) was called a ball. So, Kennedy had been squeezed inside AND outside by umpire Eddings on the prior Floyd at-bat AND the present Riggans’ at-bat. Having given up a walk already to a much more dangerous hitter (Floyd), Kennedy must have felt that he had no other choice but to come over the plate (he would have walked in another run if he didn’t). He did, and the three-run double to right-center ended his pitching for this day.
Thankfully, Kennedy understood, saying he didn’t feel that his control was that bad. It wasn’t. Usually, if you are getting squeezed, it’s on one side or the other of home plate. But when it happens on both sides of the plate, as happened to Kennedy against Upton and Floyd in the third, you feel like you have to throw it over against the Shawn Rigganses of the world. Kennedy did and Riggans, to his credit (first time up in the big leagues with the bases-loaded) made him pay. Game over.
Unfortunately, this is life in the big leagues (and most other leagues, as well) if you’re not a power pitcher. Even a great pitcher like Tom Glavine got squeezed early on after he left the cocoon of the Atlanta Braves and started pitching for the Mets in 2003 (see Kallas Remarks, 4/1/03).
But there should be brighter days ahead for Ian Kennedy. Despite what you read and heard, he really didn’t pitch that poorly. We’re talking an inch here, an inch there; a call here, a call there. That’s why the nuances of baseball make it such a great game. We’ll see how Kennedy does down the road.
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.