SAN DIEGO – When Ian Kennedy took the mound Sunday against the San Diego Padres here, there was an eerie quiet.
Clearly, the spectre of what happened last Tuesday night in Dodgers Stadium cast an unwelcome shadow on the proceedings in Petco Park. As Kennedy awaits a hearing and ultimate decision on his appointed 10 game suspension, his performance Sunday showed no residual effort. Kennedy was in command and displayed a firm discipline.
Lasting into the seventh inning, Kennedy did not allow the dark cloud of a possible harsh suspension cloud his purpose or principle. Locked in, he constantly pitched ahead of hitters on the afternoon, allowed four hits, one run, walked none an fanned six hitters.
The team result was not as gratifying for reliever David Hernandez dropped a watermelon over the plate to Kyle Blanks with two on and two gone in the eighth. Blanks then deposited that 1-2 pitch into the second level down the left field line of the Western Metal Supply Company building for his eighth home run of the season and a 4-1 win over the Diamondbacks before 27,943 in Petco Park.
As a result, the Padres swept Arizona, recorded a season-high six game winning streak and now winners in six of their last seven games.
“This was a tough series and three tough games,” said Willie Bloomquist, who went 2-for-4 on the afternoon. “This one stings, many things happened on the road trip, and it will be nice to get home.”
Lost in the suspension dialogue is Kennedy’s past efforts.
Coming into Sunday’s no-decision, he had one loss in his previous six starts, including two wins and three no decisions. That one loss ballooned his ERA to five and one-half runs per game and created a series of lop-sided numbers.
That defeat, Kennedy said, was an aberration in which he gave up 13 hits, 10 runs, all earned in just four innings of work. That cost him a 12-8 decision to the Cardinals June 6 but considered otherwise a freak storm among steady efforts.
“I’m executing better and getting ahead of hitters,” Kennedy said Sunday. “All you want to do is given your team a chance to win.”
The one blemish on an otherwise strong effort against San Diego was a hanging curve over the plate to Will Venable leading off the third. Venable proceeded to drop that 1-1 offering into the right field bleachers. That knotted the game at 1-1 until Blanks’ game winner.
“David made a very bad pitch and it cost him,” said manager Kirk Gibson. “That was a breaking pitch down the middle and said, ‘hit me.’ So, Blanks did. We scored six runs in the three games (at San Diego) and it’s been tough sledding. Sometimes, you have to make your own luck. We’ll recover.”
Still, the hour belonged to Kennedy. With a solid effort, the native of Huntington Beach, Calif. clearly blocked the suspension distraction.
“The outcome is out of my hands, and frankly, I’m tired of talking about it,” Kennedy said. “I know it’s something you guys write about it and I’m sure there will be more to come. But, no, that didn’t affect me. I was able to focus and keep our team in the game.”
PADRES ON A ROLL
If the Diamondbacks are looking at the Giants and the Rockies in their rear view mirror, there’s another foe lurking for attention.
Quietly but slowly, the San Diego Padres are moving through the National League West Division.
After sweeping the weekend series with the Diamondbacks, San Diego reached .500, now at 35-34, two games back of the West-Division-leading Diamondbacks. Their 21-7 record since April 24 is the best record in the major leagues. This also marked the first time San Diego is over the .500 mark since ending the 2010 season with a record of 90-72.
“After the finish we had last year, guys are pulling for one another and we know we have something special here,” said Padres reliever Luke Gregerson before Sunday’s game with the D-backs. “It’s been a team effort.”
The reference is the second half of the 2012 season. From June 28 to the end, the Padres went 49-37, second best in the NL West behind the Giants.
For a possible explanation to their current fortunes, Gregerson points the ups and downs of a long season, and the ability to respond to adverse conditions.
“Sometimes the pitching is not that strong and the bats will pick us up,” he added. “Other times, the bats might be quiet and a strong pitching and a good bullpen will have the same effect.”
If the Padres expect to move in the short term, there is ample opportunity. They continue a stretch of 10 games against division opponents.
Following the D-backs series, they move to At&T Park for three with the Giants and return home next weekend for four with the Dodgers.
The recent success has clearly caught the attention of the opposition.
“That’s a very good team,” D-backs skipper Kirk Gibson said of the Padres. “Look, they swept the Braves before we came in here. They play well in their ball park, and they are well managed.”