Ian Kennedy lasted just two innings, allowing nine hits and five earned runs in his only second-half start of the 2008 season.
The highly-touted prospect’s young career went from bad to worse when he was diagnosed with an aneurysm in an artery near his right shoulder the following May.
What had become of the Yankees’ 2006 first-round draft pick a year and a half since his stellar major-league debut—seven innings of one-run ball—was unexpected and distressing.
A string of minor-league appearances and a lengthy rehab period limited him to throwing just one inning for New York in September 2009. The Yankees cut their losses with Kennedy, shipping him to Arizona in a three-team deal just two months later.
Turning a 180 this season, Kennedy is throwing like a pitcher worthy of an All-Star Game selection.
At 26, the hurler is finding the consistency in his arsenal that once persuaded Baseball America to rank him second to only Phil Hughes among Yankee pitching prospects.
His seven wins put him in a nine-way tie for ninth in the National League with revered starters Cliff Lee and Shaun Marcum, and ahead of the legendary Tim Hudson and World Series champion Tim Lincecum.
In what amounted to his first full season in the majors, 2010 was a learning process for Kennedy in which he made significant progress, establishing himself as a durable front man in the D’backs rotation.
Kennedy collected 15 quality starts in 2010, pitching into the eight inning four times in 32 games. Runners stopped crossing the plate with the regularity they had in his brief 2008 campaign, and his ERA was a serviceable 3.80.
Through 15 starts this season, Kennedy’s ERA has descended to 2.98, 11th-best amid qualifying National League starters.
Most impressive is the righty's 1.05 WHIP, fifth lowest in the NL, better than Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw’s 1.06, Braves nine-game winner Jair Jurrjens’ 1.14 and Marlins much-improved hurler Anibal Sanchez’s 1.13.
Through his battles on the mound and time spent on the operating table, Kennedy maintained faith in his abilities, never allowing the diversions to alter his self-confidence.
A religious man—Jeremiah 29:11 is stitched into his glove—Kennedy has traveled a long and arduous road in just five seasons, but is approaching the All-Star break as the ace of a surging Diamondbacks club.
Just a half game back of San Francisco for first place in the NL West, Arizona has had a bounce-back 2011 after finishing last in the division with only 65 wins a year ago.
Playing on the west coast, the Diamondbacks players attract significantly less attention from the baseball media than east side and central-based clubs like New York, Boston and Chicago.
The chances of Kennedy or any D’backs player being voted into the starting lineup for the 2011 All-Star Game, even with it taking place at Chase Field, are miniscule.
For Kennedy to land his much-deserved role as a home-team All-Star, he will need to get the nod in either the peer voting or manager selection period. Unfortunately, in what has shaped up to be another “Year of the Pitcher,” there is no shortage of viable candidates for the celebrated gig.
Cole Hamels, Tommy Hanson (currently injured), Kyle Lohse, Roy Halladay, Marcum, Kershaw, Jhoulys Chacin, Jurrjens, Sanchez, Lee and teammate Daniel Hudson have all pitched tremendously, along with a handful of other NL starters.
Knowing what Kennedy has overcome since lofty expectations were first thrust onto his young arm after being chosen 21st overall out of USC, it would be the quintessential result to have Kennedy make an appearance at his home field on July 12.
Maybe Kennedy can land his spot through the final vote, where fans ballot online for one additional player per league after the initial All-Star rosters are announced.
Even if you lack the soft spot for mawkish comeback tales, no true baseball fan can deny the attractiveness of a hard-working righty with a devastating spike curve and plus changeup.
A midsummer classic moment may not be in the cards for Kennedy this year, but the young man appears to have his health and mechanics in order, and his stamina and confidence will surely build as he is making headway through his second full season in the show.