Interview: Missions manager Terry Kennedy

SAN ANTONIO, TX: Terry Kennedy is in his second year in the Padres organization, his first as a manager. Last year he was the hitting coach and is widely credited with the work that he did with several players in San Antonio, particularly Padres' uber prospect Kyle Blanks and Drew Macias.

As many long time Padres fans will remember, Kennedy was a catcher with San Diego from 1978 to 1991; including the 1984 championship team in his 14-year career in major league baseball.

We caught up with him to get his impressions on this years Missions team.

Since this is your first year as a manager in the Padres organization as compared to being the hitting coach, what is the biggest difference in your job?

Terry Kennedy: The joke is that it is less work but more headaches. In a way its less work, there is a lot of physical work because you are in the cage all the time. Your work is pre-game and it doesn't mean that you don't do work during the game, but most of it is before the game. As a manager, it is the opposite.

After the game then you have to get the written reports to the front office.

Terry Kennedy: We have a written report, which goes over defense, but its an easier report than the hitting coach. Last year, Grady wants some certain stats, such as first pitch swings and how many of those swings generated hard contact, number of pitches seen - we want to work that count deep. We led every league we played in walks last year and we were first or second in OBP. The key is we were also near the top in runs scored, so it pays off.

You played 14 years in the big leagues as a catcher, mostly as a catcher. One of the top prospects here is catcher Mitch Canham. How much do you personally work with him?

Terry Kennedy: Mitch has a ways to go defensively, he is a pretty good hitter now and for this level. He hasn't been catching that much in college and now he is thrown into the first, last year at High-A and this year at Double-A, and that isn't easy. I know about that first hand because I didn't catch much in college and then went right into pro ball and spent less time in the minors than he has, so it was tough learning how to do it on the major league level. He is working on it and it is difficult for him. He is starting to get a feel for how to call a game, and its hard with 12 pitchers that think 12 different ways. Its going to be a process for him.

What is the biggest thing for him right now, is it mental or physical?

Terry Kennedy: It's both. What you worry about catching is first you have to catch it well, which is the name of the game, so that you give the umpire a good look and get the close calls. Then you have to worry about blocking balls in the dirt, then you have to worry about throwing guys out and last, but maybe the most important part, you have to call a good game. You will be tired at the end of the game mentally and physically. When you are not quite confident in that mentally yet; you are doubly tired on both fronts, and then it starts affecting your offense.

It seems like you guys put him through quite a run down of things to do before the game. He's pretty active and it seems like he keeps bouncing back for more.

Terry Kennedy: You can do that when you are 24. Damn, I wish I was that age again where you seem to have endless energy [laughs]. If we try something like that ,we wake up feeling it; he wakes up and its just time to do it again. Having Duffy Dyer here, our roving catching instructor, is a big help. He's known Mitch as a catcher longer than I have. He's really helping a lot and both Duffy and I are in constant communication and on the same page. When he is not here, he gives me different ideas and I don't do anything without Duffy's approval; but we are also on the same page so it makes it pretty easy.

Mitch knows what we are trying to do, and he really wants to catch. He doesn't see it as a position as this is where I can play so I can hit; he has a full commitment.

One player that I have really been impressed with watching him play is Eric Sogard. It seems like every at-bat he takes is a professional at-bat. It seems like he goes up every time with a plan and makes the pitcher beat him.

Terry Kennedy: Sogie is probably one of the smartest guys we have. He understands the game at a much higher level than the one he is playing in. He knows how to play the game and knows what each at-bat means in the context of the game in what it will do for the team. He knows how to take pitches when we have baserunners and how to swing the bat when we need runs. There isn't much negative to say on his swing, it doesn't have any faults. Because of that he doesn't get in many slumps.

The big question when I listen to the scouts is his defense.

Terry Kennedy: Yeah, he knows it and that is the part he needs to work on. He works hard on it and it is an important position for the Padres. He does extra work and even though (Matt) Antonelli is high on the list there are no promises to anybody. He works very hard on his defense and has to work harder. This is where you go or you don't go.

Another player that is having a big year is Craig Cooper. He's always put up good numbers, but the question has always been if he hits for enough power for the position that he plays. Grady Fuson has mentioned that you guys are trying to get him to turn more on the inside pitch. Has he begun to accomplish that this year?

Terry Kennedy: He has really shown a big improvement there. We worked a lot on that last year, he could always go the other way anytime he wants too. I've seen him yank some pitches and that is really a good sign. As a hitter, you don't have to do that too much but just enough to prove to them that they can. If you do it they won't go inside there too much, but if you can't they will go inside there all the time. He can get the head out and he is a great defender. In the first two montha, he has already saved us eight to 10 errors at first base. If he can continue to show improvement on turning on pitches and hit a few more out of the park, he has a great chance.

Cedric Hunter looks like he is starting to pull out of his slump. What are the reasons for his early season problems?

Terry Kennedy: Adjustment to a different league. Its a different and better league. A lot of these guys have played against our team in the Cal League, so they kind of have an idea of what they can and can't do. I told him what are you worried about? You are going to be in there so just keep swinging and get yourself out of it.

A guy that has kind of surprised you by making the team at the beginning of the year was Luis Durango. What have you seen from him so far?

Terry Kennedy: He reminds me of the type guys we used to see in the 80's on the Cardinals teams. That speed never slumps. He has perfected the little slap stuff and he can drag bunt which is surprising because the good bunters that I played with usually laid them down squaring up. I think I know why he does it because he can get a head start getting out of the box. The infield has to play short so if he can get a little stronger, especially from the left side, he could do some damage. His defense has been improving and he's been playing some center. He's interesting to watch. You think how is that going to work and the next thing you know he has a few hits, some stolen bases and has crossed the plate a few times. That is why he is there.

How has Cesar Carrillo looked on the mound this year?

Terry Kennedy: Well you have to remember that he was hurt and that has set him back quite a bit. I watched him all spring; good outing, not so good, not so good, ok and then good outing. The curve is gradual, but it is going up. I can see some rhythm in his motion, he's starting to repeat his delivery more and he's getting a little more confident in letting go of some fastballs. He has the ability its just a question of the mental part. Its about gaining confidence that his arm is not going to get hurt and refining his talent.

How about Will Inman before his promotion? What were you guys doing to get a more consistent performance?

Terry Kennedy: He gets a little inconsistent with his motion. Steve Webber, our pitching coach, and Mike Couchee, who is our pitching director, are working on shortening up his motion. A little too much arm swing and too high on his upside and we are working on that because we think it takes away from his velocity. Its a big change but it's not going to happen overnight, its a process.

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