Hoping Williams’ experience will help them build on their first winning season since 1998, the Padres begin the season against Kennedy and the Colorado Rockies in the opener of a two-game set.
Williams, who reached the playoffs three times in the previous four seasons with St. Louis, is starting the Padres’ opener instead of Jake Peavy, who led the majors with a 2.27 ERA last year.
On Friday, manager Bruce Bochy said Williams, a 38-year-old right-hander, will be better equipped to handle the conditions in Denver, despite the fact that he has a 12.81 ERA in four career appearances in Colorado.
Kennedy, meanwhile, put together impressive numbers last year, especially at Coors. The left-hander set a career high with nine wins and 117 strikeouts, and set a Rockies record with a 3.66 ERA. Kennedy was even better at home, finishing 6-1 with a 3.59 ERA.
“You want other teams to know you’re a good pitcher, that when they look at the starting pitching in the upcoming series and see your name, and know they’ve got to go out there and battle when they face you,” Kennedy said. “I want to be the No. 1 guy. I want to be the mainstay.”
Williams, in his second stint with San Diego after signing as a free agent on Dec. 8, is replacing David Wells in the rotation. The Padres need the veteran right-hander to provide similar consistency as they try for their first playoff appearance since winning the NL pennant in 1998.
The Padres are essentially the same team as last year, when they improved by 23 wins and stayed in the playoff race until the final week of the regular season. They finished five games behind Houston in the NL wild-card race.
“It was obviously a nice turnaround season for them,” said Williams, who went 45-22 with St. Louis from 2001-04. “I think a lot of guys realized they had the opportunity to win, and now it’s important that you go out there for six months with that attitude, not a month and a half, saying, ‘Oh, you know what, we have a chance.’ It starts in April. April games, I believe, are more important than September games.”
Young shortstop Khalil Greene is a rising star whose defensive play has drawn comparisons with Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. He had an exciting rookie season with dozens of spectacular plays, but broke his right index finger Sept. 13 at Los Angeles.
Second baseman Mark Loretta is coming off setting career highs with a .335 average and 208 hits, joining Tony Gwynn as the only Padres to have 200 hits in a season.
Center fielder Dave Roberts was acquired from Boston to bring speed and an experienced leadoff hitter, but will begin the season on the DL.
Outfielders Ryan Klesko and Brian Giles are coming off subpar seasons. Part of Klesko’s problem was he was coming off September 2003 surgery on his right shoulder. Klesko and Giles, both left-handed hitters, also struggled with the vast outfields in right and right-center at Petco Park.
Klesko had nine home runs last season, and has just 11 since the 2003 All-Star break.
The Rockies have jettisoned steady veterans and have become the youngest team in baseball.
All-Star first baseman Todd Helton and center fielder Preston Wilson are the only players with more than two year’s of major league experience, giving the Rockies a roster with an average age of 26, including 12 players who will be in the majors on opening day for the first time.
“We’re going to present opportunities to a lot of young players,” general manager Dan O’Dowd said. “Some will take advantage, some won’t, but the ones right behind them we feel will, so it’s going to be an interesting few years for the Rockies. I think it’s going to be a transformation of the organization from what it was to what it will be.”
Wilson, who led the NL with 141 RBIs in 2003, was slowed by knee injuries last season. Without much protection from Wilson behind him, Helton failed to reach 100 RBIs for the first time in six years.
2004 STANDINGS: Padres - 3rd place, 6 GB, NL West. Rockies - 4th place, 25 GB, NL West.
PADRES PROBABLE STARTER: Williams (11-8, 4.18 ERA). Williams started last season 2-5 before finishing strong. He started Game 1 in all three postseason series for the Cardinals, going 2-0 before not receiving a decision in Game 1 of the World Series against Boston. Williams is 3-3 with a 6.52 ERA in 11 career starts against Colorado.
ROCKIES PROBABLE STARTER: Kennedy (9-7, 3.66 ERA). Kennedy gave up six runs and seven hits over five innings in his only career start against San Diego, an 11-6 Padres win on May 25, 2004.
2004 SEASON SERIES: Rockies, 10-9.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Padres - RHP Trevor Hoffman had 41 saves last year to extend his big league record to six seasons with 40 or more. He is third on the all-time list with 393 saves. … LF Klesko is batting .307 with 31 home runs and 96 RBIs in 446 career at-bats against Colorado. … RF Giles batted .397 in 58 at-bats in spring training. Rockies - Colorado’s bullpen lost 21 games that the team’s starters were in a position to win last season. … RHP Shawn Chacon had 35 saves last season, but was 1-9 with a 7.11 ERA and nine blown saves at Coors Field. … Colorado lost its final three spring training games.
2004 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Padres - 45-36 on the road; Rockies - 38-43 at home.
INJURIES: Padres - CF Roberts (groin), 15-day DL. Rockies - RHP Chin-hui Tsao (shoulder) 15-day DL.