Kennedy heats up in win vs. Marlins

Kennedy heats up in win

MIAMI -- His head cleared, if not his stats, Adam Kennedy has begun the second half in sort of the fashion in which the Cardinals expected he would kick off the first. Kennedy homered and doubled for the second straight night, and turned in a couple of nifty defensive plays to boot, as St. Louis beat the Marlins, 5-3, at Dolphin Stadium on Monday night.

Kennedy, who endured the worst first half of any Cardinals hitter, is rejuvenated since the All-Star break. He's reached base by hit or walk seven times in his three games, and in two nights, he's equaled his power output from the previous 11 weeks.

"Right before the break, me and Hal [McRae, hitting coach] really thought we had something going. Over the break, we really thought about that. And then I just tried to stay with that approach, and hopefully I can keep it. It's only been a couple days, but I've felt a lot better."

Chris Duncan also went deep for the second night in a row on Monday, hitting his 18th home run of the season and his fourth in July. The dingers helped send Braden Looper to a win in his first start at a ballpark where he has made 200 relief appearances. It also made him a winner for the first time in more than seven weeks, ending a streak that dated back to before shoulder pain landed him on the disabled list.

But that string was a minor irritation compared with the frustration Kennedy has carried around. The second baseman signed a three-year deal with St. Louis during the offseason, then hit .210 with eight extra-base hits in the first half. He saw his playing time diminish, but the nine-year veteran never raised a stink.

"He's got a lot of guys pulling for him," said manager Tony La Russa. "He's handled it really well. He's busting his butt the whole time. He hasn't made any excuses. He hasn't been a negative force. So he's got a lot of respect in the clubhouse. When he does well, there are a lot of guys who are happy, not just for us, but for him."

It was Duncan's two-run, first-inning shot off Byung-Hyun Kim that got St. Louis started. For Duncan, it was homer No. 4 in July. He's 15-for-32 (.469) on the month, with eight runs scored and 13 RBIs.

After the Marlins tied the game at 2 in the second, Gary Bennett broke the tie with an RBI single. Kennedy's solo job against Kim in the sixth provided insurance. Duncan also had a sacrifice fly for the fifth run.

Kennedy is 6-for-11 on the Cards' current road trip. His homers Sunday and Monday were his first and second of the year, and his four extra-base hits in the two games equal the total from his previous 159 at-bats. Given a chance -- perhaps a last chance -- to re-establish his claim on the second base job, Kennedy has seized it.

"When I've struggled in the past, I was always in the lineup or allowed to fight my way through it," he said. "That wasn't the case [this time]. Definitely, it does eat at you. You don't want that to be an issue, and the only way to fix it is to play better."

Looper lasted 6 1/3 innings to improve to 7-7 on the year, running into trouble in the second, but otherwise breezing through the Florida lineup. He threw his sinking fastball for strikes and had excellent bite on his split-finger fastball.

"I felt like I made an adjustment mechanically today in the bullpen a little bit," Looper said. "I told [pitching coach Dave Duncan] when I was warming up that I kind of felt something, so I really tried to concentrate on that. ... I told him when I left the bullpen, 'Wow, I haven't felt like this in a month.'"

He won for the first time in seven starts, dating back to May 24, and for the first time since spending two weeks on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. In his first season as a starter, Looper passed the 100-inning mark for the first time in his career.

Even the runs against Looper were not entirely the pitcher's fault. The two-run Marlins second started with an apparent miscommunication in the outfield. Mike Jacobs hit a ball into left-center, and both Duncan and Skip Schumaker tumbled after it, leaving no one backing up. The ball squirted away and went for a double. After a hit batter, Jeremy Hermida stroked an RBI single and Matt Treanor tied the game with a sacrifice fly.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.