2023 World Series: Ian Kennedy, Despite Injury, Still Helping Rangers Relievers

Ian Kennedy while the Texas Rangers warm up
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

2023 World Series: Injured Ian Kennedy Still Helping Rangers Relievers

ARLINGTON, Tex. (Oct 27) — The Texas Rangers‘ bullpen has had its struggles in 2023. Rangers relievers ranked toward the bottom going into the playoffs. But they have been much improved thus far, for several reasons. One factor in their improvement has come from an injured veteran — Ian Kennedy.

Kennedy, who turns 39 on December 19, is one of the oldest players in the league, having debuted in 2007. He has pitched in 497 regular season games, 290 as a starter and 207 in relief. In 2023, he has pitched in relief for the Rangers, appearing in 16 games. He struggled, allowing runs in half of his appearances and putting up a 1.408 WHIP. The 13 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings gave him a 7.16 ERA. Part of that was due to a rotator cuff injury that did not show up until September and sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Back in May, he told Sport Relay how much he enjoyed playing in Texas. Shortly after giving that interview, the Rangers designated him for assignment. However, in further testament to how much he enjoys playing for the Rangers, he accepted the minor league assignment once he cleared waivers.

Developing Relationships with the Young Players

His time in Red Rock allowed him to connect with the younger up-and-coming Rangers relievers. One connection he made was with Cody Bradford. Bradford said Kennedy has helped him with confidence and sequencing pitches. He also helped Bradford with pitch location. Neither Bradford nor Kennedy pitches with a high velocity, so, according to Bradford, “He’d have to run it inside to guys to buy more real estate on the outer half of the plate. I was in the same spot a couple of weeks ago.” Bradford said he used his changeup too much and “got punished for it,” so Kennedy reminded him to run the fastball inside more. He added that Kennedy has also helped him with slider grips and curveball grips.

For Kennedy, this is a natural part of a playing career. “The last four or five years, you’re part player, part coach,” he said. “You’ve got to pass on some of the information you’ve learned. I’m not pitching right now, (so the) value I bring (is) at least to help our guys on the field produce.” Kennedy has seen a lot of success, both as a starter and reliever, but he has also had his share of struggles and obstacles. “I’ve been through it all,” he said. “I’ve seen it all, up and down.”

The Wisdom of Ian Kennedy

The wisdom he’s gained from all his career experiences is what has made him so valuable to his teammates. Will Smith said, “He’s helped probably everybody in that bullpen. Not only is he a really good pitcher when he is healthy, but he’s probably an even better person off the field, just his mentality — been there, done that. He’s seen a lot in this game, and he’s awesome to have around. We’re really thankful he’s here.”

Josh Sborz added that Kennedy’s presence has been “tremendous” and having “more experience” behind them has a “calming effect.” Chris Stratton pointed out, “Any time you have a guy that has that much experience…. We’re asking him all the questions you can ask, asking him why you pitch this guy this certain way.” Stratton also said that having Kennedy as, in a way, “another coach to lean on” has been “awesome.”

Appreciated by Coaching Staff

The manager and coaching staff have also liked having Kennedy sitting with the relievers. Manager Bruce Bochy said, “Any time you have somebody with his experience out there talking to the guys, helping them — whether it’s with their pitching or on the mental side — that’s an asset. And that’s why we wanted him around with his experience, his pitching in games like this. He’s done a great job for us, and that’s why we kept him with us the whole way.”

Bullpen coach Brett Hayes added, “Ian Kennedy has been around the game a long time. He’s done pretty much everything. He’s started, been very successful with that, he’s pitched in the playoffs, he’s closed. (Ian) has been a vital part of this group, not only in the inning’s he’s pitched but as veteran leadership. He’s a big asset to have, and I love having him.”

The Calming Presence of Ian Kennedy

Kennedy’s calming presence is something everyone interviewed has mentioned. Hayes went further in depth. “He has really good conversations with some of our young guys. (Ian) also keeps the energy loose and free.” Stratton also likes how Kennedy keeps things loose. “This game is so hard,” Stratton said, “and I still have fun doing it. He’s the epitome of that.”

Andrew Heaney goes up to Kennedy once a game and says, “Say something positive” in what Heaney called “stressful, tense moments.” Kennedy “always has something funny to say or has something positive or uplifting or just joking around.” Heaney also said that Kennedy being injured has given him a “birds-eye view.” Since Kennedy isn’t focused on his own stretch routine, he can carefully observe what the others are doing and give them pointers.

A Future Coach

While Kennedy was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2022, some of his fellow relievers told this reporter that Kennedy would make a great bullpen coach after he retires. That sentiment is echoed by both Hayes and Kennedy’s Rangers teammates. Stratton pointed out that part of being a great coach is communicating well, an ability he says Kennedy has. Sborz likes that Kennedy’s “controlled sense of emotion” will make him a great coach. “We play professional baseball,” Sborz said. “We don’t need to be yelled at.”

Bradford has the same feelings. “If he wanted to (coach), he could,” Bradford said with a smile. “He has enough connections and enough knowing the game, I guarantee you he’d get a job.” Heaney put it even more simply. “He’d be phenomenal at it.”

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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