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Kennedy not afraid to look in the mirror for answers

Pitcher implementing offseason adjustments to reclaim mound dominance

PEORIA, Ariz. -- When Padres pitcher Ian Kennedy heard the team's renovated Spring Training facility wouldn't be completed in time for his winter workout, he instead headed to the Ancala Country Club near his home in Scottsdale.

One of the drills Kennedy worked on saw him standing in front of a large mirror, mimicking his delivery while holding a towel instead of a baseball.

It wasn't long before Kennedy began getting some strange looks by other patrons of the club.

"Most of the time, I was by myself or I would try to do it when no one was there," Kennedy said. "I think one guy saw me one time and asked me what I was doing."

Odd looks aside, the mirror drill was one prescribed by pitching coach Darren Balsley that Kennedy not only dutifully performed but fully embraced as he went about preparing for the upcoming season.

If there's anything Kennedy learned during his two months with the Padres last season -- he was traded to the team on July 31 from the D-backs -- it was to fully trust Balsley.

"He's unbelievable," Kennedy said.

Take the mirror drill, for example, where Kennedy is looking to make sure his left hip stays aligned with home plate, which allows his front side to stay closed much longer than before.

"He can pick out something so quick. I didn't even think to look at my hips," Kennedy said. "I realized pretty quickly that he [Balsley] was special and would be good for my career."

Getting back to his 2011 form, when he won 21 games and finished fourth in the Cy Young vote while with the D-backs, would certainly be good for Kennedy's career as well, which is why he's following all that Balsley has to say -- from offseason conversations on the phone to individual work in Arizona.

"We think he can regain that form," said Padres manager Bud Black.

Kennedy, who will make his second Cactus League start of the season Thursday against the Rangers, is all in, having already made small changes that he and Balsley think could lead to some very big things in terms of production this season.

For one, Balsley wants Kennedy to work slower with his delivery.

"We'd like him to be a little more deliberate in his delivery," Balsley said. "I think he rushed himself the last few years, so we've slowed him down. We got his hand up a little bit. His hand position was lower. And I think he was trying to be too quick to the plate. He was pushing the ball. That all stemmed from rushing himself."

Kennedy, who has watched a lot of video of his starts from that blissful run in 2011 and some starts in 2012, saw the difference between pushing the ball and staying on top of it.

"I felt it, but it was hard for me to change it. I felt I was under the ball a lot. It wasn't on top. When I feel that, I felt I was pushing the ball constantly," he said. "When I was throwing good … I felt I was on top of the ball. But every third outing or so, I was pushing it for some reason."

Kennedy was 4-2 with a 4.24 ERA in 10 starts after the trade sent him to San Diego, a deal that saw the Padres ship lefty reliever Joe Thatcher and Minor League reliever Matt Stites to the D-backs, who might have sold low on Kennedy, given he was only two seasons removed from that big 2011.

Kennedy allowed five or more earned runs in three of those 10 starts but allowed two or fewer runs in six starts, including his final start of the season on Sept. 25, when he allowed two runs in seven innings during a victory over his former team.

"Where he's at in his career, we're hoping that a good offseason working with Darren last year, a couple of minor tweaks in the delivery will help him," Black said. "I like the way that he finished the season, especially that last start, especially the velocity he showed."

Now, Kennedy is trying to build off that, armed with the small fixes from Balsley that he hopes will add up to a return to double-digit victories and 200-plus innings.

He'll be in a rotation that includes soft-tossing lefty Eric Stults and three power arms in Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Josh Johnson. If you ask Balsley about the three power arms in his rotation, he will likely admonish you if you forget to add Kennedy, who has stuck out 160 or more the last four seasons.

"You can include Kennedy in that mix," Balsley said. "My feeling is that no matter what your velocity is … if you can throw a ball by a guy, then you're a power pitcher."

Corey Brock is a reporter for Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter.
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