Kennedy steps up performance as season draws near

Righty pleased with fastball command in penultimate start of spring

Kennedy steps up performance as season draws near

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Before Friday's game against the Mariners, Padres' manager Bud Black was asked what he wanted to see most from starting pitcher Ian Kennedy.

"I want him to pitch like this is a regular-season game," Black said.

Black's declaration wasn't merely about this being Kennedy's penultimate start before the team breaks camp Wednesday, but more along the lines of wanting to see improvement over his previous starts.

He got just that Friday, as Kennedy, after a slow start, allowed one run over the final 4 2/3 innings that he pitched, striking out seven, on his way to his best start of the spring.

"I think it's important the last couple of starts that those guys [starting pitchers] get the regular-season focus and competitiveness," Black said. "It was good to see him pitch with the focus and concentration of a regular-season game. It was good to see Ian perform tonight."

All told, Kennedy allowed two runs on three hits in 5 2/3 innings and had two walks. He threw 94 pitches with 56 strikes and was the winning pitcher as the Padres defeated the Mariners, 7-2.

"Fastball command was really good. Like I told Yaz [catcher Yasmani Grandal], we wanted to treat it like a game, read bats, read swings. It's really close to that crunch time, one more start and it's time to go," Kennedy said.

Entering Friday's game, Kennedy had allowed four, four and two earned runs in his last three starts and a combined eight runs on 16 hits in his last 8 2/3 innings, as he struggled with his fastball command and burying the ball in the strike zone.

Kennedy, who has struggled in the first inning of his starts, allowed a run in the first inning as Robinson Cano lined a double to right field to score Brad Miller, who singled with one out in the inning.

But from there, the right-hander pitched well. He had two strikeouts in the third inning and retired 11 of 12 at one point, with the lone base runner coming when second baseman Alexi Amarista was charged with an error in the fourth inning.

"I thought his fastball command was good, especially on the inside part of the plate to the left-handed hitters," Black said.

Black said Kennedy will make one more start in Arizona, the Padres final game here Wednesday against the Royals. Kennedy's next start after that will likely come during the season-opening series against the Dodgers at Petco Park, possibly in the second game of the season on April 1.

Whereas early in his career with the Yankees, and even his first season with the D-backs, Kennedy had to make a good impression early, he's been afforded the opportunity to work on things in each start during the six weeks of Spring Training, all with the goal of being ready for the regular season.

He thought Friday was a good step in that direction.

"I like to use Spring Training to get ready for the season," Kennedy said. "I didn't have that luxury early on in my career."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.