OAKLAND -- Having succeeded at one impressive role reversal, Ian Kennedy’s unlikely to try another.
Kansas City’s starter-turned-closer took his place among a distinguished group of pitchers by recording his 30th save in the Royals’ 6-5 triumph over the A’s on Monday. A starter in all 277 of his appearances from 2010 through 2018, Kennedy established himself as the Royals’ full-time closer in June while seamlessly adjusting to the change in duties.
“This is a cool opportunity I’ve been given,” Kennedy said Tuesday, one day after becoming the fourth pitcher in Major League history to compile seasons featuring 20 victories and 30 saves. The others are John Smoltz, Derek Lowe and Dennis Eckersley.
“He’s had a big year,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Thirty is a big number. Elite closers have 30.”
Kennedy explained that his vast experience as a starter actually eased his transition to relieving.
“I joke that when you put yourself in so many situations like bases loaded with one out, whether it’s the fourth inning or the second inning, it could be the game-changing run,” Kennedy said. “I got used to it. Pitching with pressure at the very end is kind of the same thing.”
However, if the Royals suddenly need help in their rotation next year, don’t expect Kennedy to volunteer to start. For one thing, at age 34, he feels better working one inning several times per week than trying to last past five innings once every five days.
“The last two years, it took the last little bit to feel better,” the right-hander said. “I can tell you I like how my body feels as a reliever. As a starter, you feel like you get hit by a truck every fifth day. It’s not so much your arm; it’s the rest of the body.”
Said Yost, “I think we fully expect him to come to Spring Training next year as a reliever.”
Kennedy’s 20-win season occurred in 2011, when he finished 21-4 for the D-backs.