SAN DIEGO -- Ian Kennedy and Tyson Ross have both flashed mastery of their primary off-speed offerings this season -- and as a result, both are on pace to top 200 strikeouts for the first time in their careers.
In his first season as a full-time starter, Ross has maintained virtually the same strikeout rate (8.5 K/9) that he had in 2013 (8.6 K/9), when he was moved to San Diego's rotation for good in July. He came into Saturday with the seventh-most punchouts in the NL (95), on pace to hurl 205 on a regular 35-start campaign.
Ross has thrown by far the most sliders (584) of any MLB pitcher this season, 84 more than second-place Milwaukee starter Kyle Lohse, according to Baseball Prospectus. It elicits the fifth-best whiff/swing rate (48.14 percent) among all MLB sliders.
"Tyson has one of the best sliders in baseball," said Padres manager Bud Black. "So [hitters] are gonna swing and miss it."
Kennedy, meanwhile, has relied on his 12-6 curveball to fool hitters, a tactic that has worked better since his average fastball velocity has increased from 91.3 mph in 2013 to 92.7 mph in 2014. Kennedy's curveball has the sixth-most downward motion (-9.48 inches) of all pitchers who have thrown at least 100 curves this season, according to Baseball Prospectus.
"I think Ian is throwing as well as he's thrown in a few years as far as just pure stuff and making pitches," Black said. "His velocity is up, his secondary pitches are good. So it doesn't surprise me at all.
Even on an outing like the one he had on Friday against the Dodgers, when he struggled with control, Kennedy still recorded five strikeouts in five innings to vault himself to fourth place (103) on the NL strikeout leaderboard. He's on pace to log 222 punchouts in 210 innings after narrowly missing the 200-strikeout benchmark with a career-best 198 in 222 innings in 2011.
"It doesn't surprise me at all," Black said. "As long as those guys continue to make their starts, go out there every fifth day and physically feel good, they're gonna get strikeouts."
Black thinks protective cap is a good idea
SAN DIEGO -- Padres manager Bud Black says he never had any screaming line drives whiz past his head while he pitched in the Major Leagues. But he doesn't blame reliever Alex Torres and other pitchers who want to protect themselves from such an occurrence.
On Saturday night, Torres became the first pitcher to wear the protective cap approved for pitchers' use by MLB in a regular-season game while pitching in the eighth inning of Saturday's contest against the Dodgers. The league approved the product in January nearly a year and a half after pitcher Brandon McCarthy was struck in the head by a line drive and suffered life-threatening brain injuries while on the mound for the Oakland A's. McCarthy has since recovered and is now pitching for Arizona.
The headgear has been the subject of snarky comments -- Torres' own teammates commented in the clubhouse before Saturday's game that he resembled a third member of the video game characters, the Mario Bros.
"It doesn't feel as bad as it looks, but it does look as bad as it looks," joked Black, who thinks the cap is too bulky but that the intent behind it is good. "There will be continued progress in the adjustments of the headwear, but it's up to each individual player [to wear it]."
Count Torres among those who would rather be the subject of some lighthearted teasing than take the risk of brain damage.
"It could save our lives, if someone hits a ball to your head," Torres said. "It doesn't feel really bad. It doesn't feel like how it looks on my head."
• Black said that third baseman Chase Headley is "doing better" after missing the past two games with back pain related to a herniated disc, and that Headley should be return to the lineup during the upcoming Giants series, perhaps by Monday.
• Jace Peterson singled in the fifth Sunday to snap his 0-for-20 slump since being recalled June 4.
• Seth Smith, who entered Sunday 6-for-12 against the Dodgers this season with four home runs, a double and four walks, pinch-hit in the eighth inning Sunday and grounded out.
Will Laws is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.