Kinney has struggled through his first two Grapefruit League outings. He's been touched for three runs, three hits and a walk in each game. For an ordinary rookie with 21 games of big-league experience, that would be a major concern.
For a rookie with 21 regular-season big-league games and seven shutout appearances in the postseason, it's not quite as dicey. Pitching coach Dave Duncan remains a steadfast believer in Kinney, who projects as a pivotal piece in the St. Louis bullpen this season.
"He knows there's competition in camp," Duncan said. "But as far as I'm concerned, he's not going to lose the job early in the spring. If he were to lose his job, it would be late in the spring. Real late in the spring, not early. And I think by that time, he'll be in better control with his breaking pitches and it will be a different game."
Kinney, who relied heavily on a biting slider during his emergence as a postseason hero last year, isn't throwing that pitch much just yet. It's not that he doesn't have a feel for it. Rather, he's not even trying to work it in very often.
Instead, he's focusing on commanding his fastball, getting a downward movement on that pitch. Once he can make his sinker sink, he'll start working on the slider.
"I've got to get my arm strength up so I can throw the slider off the fastball," Kinney said. "My game is I have two pitches that on the way to the plate they look identically the same, and at the last minute, one goes one way and one goes the other way. But you've got to get the fastball first."
And until Kinney has incorporated his primary pitch, Duncan will reserve judgment.
"When his breaking ball is there, he's a different pitcher," Duncan said. "His breaking ball is not there yet. Generally it's a pitch that comes later in the spring for most pitchers. So I'll judge him when he's throwing his breaking ball for strikes."
Kinney's outing on Monday actually started fairly well. He induced a ground ball, walked a batter and got another out on the ground. He was one pitch away from cutting his 27.00 ERA in half. Then Mike Rodriguez jumped on a sinker that didn't sink, cranking a two-run homer. A single, a steal and another single made it three runs in the inning.
"The ball the guy hit out was a high sinker," Kinney said. "That's what happens to high sinkers. They get hit hard.
"I personally have always had to take my lumps a little early in Spring Training, and try to piece it together each and every time out. Today I felt like I did take a step forward. I didn't get the results I want, but I did throw some good pitches."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.