Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 5/24/12
PHOENIX Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling spoiled it for Diamondbacks fans. Desert dwellers are used to 20-game winners. They expect them, and they expect them in multiples. The bar is set about as high as Camelback Mountain. You could look it up. Johnson and Schilling are the only two pitchers in the major leagues in the last 21 years to win at least 21 games in two successive seasons. Johnson won two NL Cy Young awards and 45 games from 2001-02, when Schilling was the two-time Cy Young runner-up and won 45 games in the same two seasons. It brought a World Series title anda skewed perspective. They thumbed their nose at history, especially during what has become the 35-start era. Such symmetrically successful seasons seldom surface. Before Johnson and Schilling, Dave Stewart was the only player since 1980 with consecutive 21-win seasons, and he did it three times during Oaklands Golden Age, from 1988-90. Before him, Tommy John (1970-80). Which brings us to current D-backs ace Ian Kennedy.Kennedy was 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 33 starts last season while finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young balloting. One discerning voter picked Kennedy first, a nod to the more difficult proposition of making about half of his starts at hitter-friendly Chase Field rather than Dodger Stadium, where award winner Clayton Kershaw (21-5, 2.28) did his good work. He began this season by beating San Francisco on Opening Day and won his first three decisions, only adding to the burden of unrealistic expectations. Since then? No wins, and his team has lost all five of his starts.Kennedy stands at 3-4 with a 4.47 ERA after nine starts, and his opponents batting average is about 45 points higher than it was a year ago as he prepares to face Milwaukee in the first game of a three-game series at Chase Field on Friday. What is up with him this year? In a nutshell, baseball. Kennedy is throwing virtually the same mix at almost the same frequency he did last season. A few more fastballs and changeups, a few less breaking balls, as the statistical site Fangraphs details. The velocities are virtually the same. He has been the model of consistency, really, except for the results, something a starting pitcher cannot always control. Last year, the D-backs bullpen failed to hold only two leads behind him while preserving 14 others; and he won games in which he allowed four and five earned runs. It has flipped so far this season. Kennedy already has lost twice while giving up only two runs, and the bullpen failed to hold a 2-1 lead on another occasion. At the same time, he gave up at least six runs only twice last season, and he has already matched that number through nine starts.Pitching coach Charlie Nagy, who won 15 games six times in his major league career, understands exactly how difficult it can be to get to 20, but that's not the measure that matters. A lot of things have to go right," Nagy said. "You have to put up a lot of innings and stay in the game late, but you also have to score some runs. You have to rely on your bullpen a lot. Every time you go out there, things have to kind of work out.Hes the same guy. Just trying to find his rhythm right now, get in the swing of things. You go out there, and sometimes you try to do too much. You give up a hit and try to stop things from happening, and things kind of snowball. He has some bad games this year, and he had some bad games last year, too. Im not really concerned too much. Manager Kirk Gibson said Kennedy may be pushing a little too hard, like some of his teammates, to get the D-backs back on track. I think Ian has really been hard on himself," Gibson said. "I think he has been trying to throw a shutout every time. I see a little more frustrated reaction from him when he gives up a run. Its going to happen. Guys are really putting a lot of pressure on themselves to try to do well. The failures have taken a bigger bite out of them. Kennedy figures to make about 33 or 34 starts this season, which is plenty of time to drop his numbers. And he knows how to make a run. Kennedy won 13 of his final 14 decisions last year, starting the weekend before the All-Star break. Like I said last year, you have to have everything line up perfectly to win 20, Kennedy said. I feel like Ive had two bad games, and Ive definitely had bad games early in a season, and Im going to have bad games every single year. I dont feel much different at all. There are a lot of times I cant control, unless I hit some homers, which aint going to happen when the offense is struggling, or when I struggled and the offense did well. It goes back to what I can guarantee, and that is my approach. How I approach every start and how I approach every pitch. As long as I keep that consistent, thats all I can control. Follow Jack Magruder on Twitter
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