Padres pitcher throws with increased velocity in one-run victory
By AJ Cassavell
SAN DIEGO -- A nine-year Major League veteran, Ian Kennedy knows better than most when he's making a pivotal start. Facing the first-place Dodgers in front of a sellout crowd after a tough loss Friday night, with Zack Greinke as his opposite number -- yeah, that qualifies.
Kennedy was more than up to the task Saturday, as the Padres edged the Dodgers, 2-1, thanks to Justin Upton's go-ahead home run in the eighth. The Padres right-hander allowed just one run on four hits over seven relatively easy innings.
"That's what we play for. We play for that adrenaline and that competition," Kennedy said. "Who's going to make the first mistake? It's fun to pitch those."
Given the circumstances, it was easily Kennedy's best start of the season. He also allowed one run over seven innings in San Francisco on May 6, but the Padres won that game easily, 9-1.
This time, Kennedy was facing his arch-nemesis, the team he'd faced eight previous times in the past two seasons. In those eight starts, the Dodgers battered Kennedy to the tune of a 5.05 ERA and an 0-5 record.
"You know you're going to get a game," Kennedy said of facing L.A. "They have such a good offense, good pitching, you know it's going to be close. You've got to be on your game."
Perhaps the most promising sign for the Padres was that Kennedy's fastball sat at 92-93 mph throughout the night and even touched 94 consistently in the early going.
Kennedy entered the night with an average fastball velocity of 90.8 mph, according to Fangraphs. It had often dropped as low as the high 80s, making it very hittable.
"There's been a little bit of an uptick in his velocity the last couple of starts, which is a good sign," said Padres manager Bud Black. "The command of the fastball was much better tonight. We're seeing some positive signs and good direction with Ian."
Kennedy said he didn't quite find his curveball until the fifth inning. But when he found it, it became a weapon. He ended his night by getting Yasmani Grandal looking at a hook in the top of the seventh.
Kennedy made one mistake on the night, a grooved fastball to his former catcher that ended up in the right field seats.
Grandal's home run trot marked the only time a Dodger touched second base all night.
After being removed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh, Kennedy was back in the clubhouse when Upton hit the decisive home run.
"I was pumped," Kennedy said. "[Greinke] wasn't making too many mistakes. That was one of the few that he made. Justin is one of those hitters you don't want to make those to. We were all really excited. He's come through in big situations."
Coming through in a big situation? That's exactly what Kennedy himself did on Saturday night.
AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.