Should Ian Kennedy Put Away His Golf Clubs During the Season?

The Arizona Diamondbacks will be taking on the Los Angeles Dodgers starting on Monday night in Chase Field, and they are coming home after a pretty successful road trip. They managed a 4-3 record over their trip through LA, Denver, and Kansas City, but they still find themselves in a precarious position in the NL West, nine and a half games behind the Dodgers. Yes, there are still 120 games left in the season, but to face that big of a deficit already is tough, and if they are unable to at least take two from the Dodgers, then they could be in even bigger trouble.

Before that series gets started, there is one story that flew under the radar a bit over the weekend. Ian Kennedy had a bit of a rough outing on Saturday against the Royals, pitching only 4 1/3rd innings and giving up six earned runs and scattering eight hits. Lost in the reviews of that performance was something that Arizona Republic columnist Bob McManaman covered in the paper on Sunday morning. According to the reporter, Kennedy and one of his teammates went out golfing on the Friday morning before the series began. Here was McManaman’s reaction, although he did say as a preface that he didn’t have any real problems with the golf outing:

“Kennedy admittedly pitched terribly. It was his fourth consecutive loss. I’m not saying golf was the reason for it, but I will say this: He told me after the game he will try to learn from Saturday’s performance. I think it starts by leaving the golf clubs at home and focusing solely on pitching.”

Leaving aside the weirdness of saying he doesn’t have problems with it but then saying that he thinks it is enough of an issue that Kennedy needs to knock off the golfing, let’s start with the notion of pitchers golfing. This isn’t the first time that a hurler’s penchant for the links has made news this season. Josh Beckett of the Boston Red Sox got into trouble earlier this season when he apparently went golfing shortly after being scratched from a start with shoulder trouble. The media in Beantown was absolutely livid, and several columnists suggested that it was part of a bigger issue with his attitude toward the game and his team. Articles demanding that he be traded or ruing the demise of the Terry Francona era were pretty common after that, needless to say.

As for Kennedy, it is an accurate assertion that he hasn’t quite been the dominant pitcher that we saw a year ago. Last season for the NL West winners, he went 21-4 with a sparkling 2.88 ERA. He also racked up nearly 200 strikeouts in finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting.

This season, however, has been a different story. He currently is at 3-4 (anyone willing to take bets on whether he can match his mark from a year ago by pulling a Sutcliffe and dominating the rest of the way?) and his WHIP has shot up from 1.09 to 1.35. Add to that his 4.47 ERA, difficulty commanding his pitches, and his H/9 of nearly 10 (it was 7.5 a season ago), and it’s pretty easy to see that he is struggling.

The question McManaman seems to pose, however, is whether or not his approach to pitching is too lackadaisical, considering his wanting to go to the golf course on the day before he starts. Obviously that isn’t going to change any of the mechanical issues he could be experiencing, but is he right in suggesting that mindset may not be in the right place?

Yes, there is an argument that can be made that perhaps he should be spending more time around the ballpark studying tape and getting ready for his starts, but an equal and more compelling point can be made for the need for Kennedy to relax and try to get back into the carefree groove that he seemed to be in last season. Granted, some pitchers are very mechanics-oriented, but there comes a point on the mound when you just have to let things flow, and that’s probably the point where Kennedy is now.

If he needs to go golfing to clear his mind before a start, then he should do just that. He is an integral part of this team’s chances to go anywhere this season, and he needs to get his mind right in order to fit into that role. If it takes going golfing to do that, then Godspeed and let me get the key for his cart. This notion that he shouldn’t be allowed to take time to relax during the grind of a baseball season is ludicrous, and as long as he doesn’t pull a Beckett and duck out of starts in order to dust off the clubs, then he should be allowed to do what he wants.

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