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Kennedy gets the call for the Rays

Left-handed pitcher put up minor-league numbers that ultimately were too good to ignore.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 2, 2001


SEATTLE -- Joe Kennedy's success this season has been amazing, so much so that even he can't explain it. From a possible spring assignment to Class A Bakersfield to opening the season with Double-A Orlando to a well-deserved promotion to Triple-A Durham to the major leagues on Friday.

"Unbelievable," Kennedy said, pulling on his No. 50 Rays uniform for the first time. "There's no words."

Kennedy will take Paul Wilson's place in the rotation and make his first start Wednesday in Toronto.

The 22-year-old left-hander has been spectacular through the first two months of the minor-league season, going 6-0 with a 0.99 ERA in 11 starts for Orlando and Durham.

"He deserves an opportunity to pitch at this level," manager Hal McRae said. "He's earned an opportunity to pitch at this level. And we need the help."

The jump to the majors can be intimidating for some, but the Rays just want Kennedy, 6 feet 4, 225 pounds, to keep doing what he's been doing.

"The worst thing he could think is that he has to do something different or do something better," McRae said. "He can't be allowed to think that way. Basically he's pitching to the same plate he's been pitching to."

While Kennedy didn't get the headlines or big bonus checks of some of the Rays' other heralded pitching prospects, such as Matt White, Bobby Seay and Jason Standridge, he said he never doubted his ability to succeed.

"I knew I could do what I've done," he said.

Kennedy was the Rays' eighth-round pick out of Grossmont (Calif.) Junior College in 1998, the same draft that produced third baseman Aubrey Huff and pitcher Ryan Rupe.

Kennedy, who wasn't drafted out of El Cajon Valley High near San Diego, spent 21/2 seasons at the low levels of the Rays system, compiling an impressive ratio of 287 strikeouts to 81 walks.

He started to draw notice when he continued that performance at the higher levels of the minor leagues, recording 75 strikeouts and 12 walks in 73 innings.

If anything is different this season, Kennedy said his control of three pitches -- a mid-90s fastball, curveball and changeup -- has been even sharper.

Wilson lost his job because he lost the ability to control his pitches. He will be used in long relief in the hope he can rediscover his form in a less pressure-packed setting.

"I'm not happy, but it's something I got myself into," said Wilson, 2-7 with a league-high 8.43 ERA "All I can do is be a professional and try to find out what's going on and make what's wrong right."

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