Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Harper: Kennedy Flashes Maddux Ability

There was an interesting article in yesterday's Daily News in which John Harper broke down Monday night's Spring Training matchup between the Yankees and Reds. No, the focus was not Joba Chamberlain and the wicked curveball he threw to Edwin Encarnacion, and instead the piece discussed Ian Kennedy's resemblance to another cerebral righthander.

Harper cites one scout on hand Monday night who saw Kennedy's resemblance to Greg Maddux after a very impressive inning. One in which Kennedy's intelligence more than stuff was on display:

Last night, [Kennedy] threw four scoreless innings against the Reds that had one scout in attendance likening at least one impressive sequence to the way Greg Maddux made pitching look easy in his prime.

Yes, Kennedy is the artist of the Yankee trio, dazzling hitters more with his ability to hit corners and change speeds than with high heat. Not that he's a soft-tosser - at 91-92 mph, his fastball has some pop - but he zoomed through the minors in his first professional season in 2007 because of his command of the fastball and a changeup that has Johan Santana-like qualities.

As such, Kennedy loves the cat-and-mouse game every hitter must play with someone like him - a pitcher who seemingly can throw any of four pitches for a strike whenever necessary.

"I don't know if I overthink some things at times," Kennedy said. "But I like that part of the game. I think it's a big part of pitching. It's like playing chess - you have to think a couple of moves ahead, a couple of pitches ahead, sometimes even a couple of at-bats ahead."

Kennedy thinks about such things, probably more than most pitchers. In his previous start, for example, he faced a 3-1 count against Twins slugger Delmon Young, and promptly challenged him with a fastball down the middle, which Young hammered for a home run. But there was more to the pitch than met the eye.

Afterward, Kennedy laughed and said he would text message "You're Welcome" to Young, with whom he once played on Team USA, but in truth he was setting him up for a big at-bat down the road, admitting later that he didn't want Young to see how he might pitch him in a similar situation during the season.

"It's always fun to watch a guy like that pitch. He can change speeds behind in the count, but he's not afraid to challenge hitters with his fastball behind in the count either. He's really unpredictable."

That unpredictability was on display last night in his four impressive innings, one in particular when he handcuffed the heart of the Reds' order with his full repertoire.

Facing Ken Griffey Jr., Kennedy got ahead with two called-strike fastballs on the outside corner, then jammed the legend with an inside fastball, producing a high bouncer down the first base line that Morgan Ensberg misplayed into a single - the only hit Kennedy allowed.

Kennedy then struck out both Brandon Phillips and Adam Dunn swinging at 2-2 changeups, fooling both of them badly. Finally, he retired Edwin Encarnacion on three pitches, a first-pitch curveball for a called strike, a fastball away that was fouled off, and an inside fastball that broke Encarnacion's bat as he lined softly to third.

It was an inning that made one American League scout at the game last night nod in admiration and say: "That was a Greg Maddux inning."

The fact that Kennedy would rather toss a meatball and risk Young crushing a homer (which he did) instead of reveal a pitching pattern he may use when the games count is telling of the USC alum's mentality and acumen.

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