PHOENIX -- The All-Star break could not come at a better time for Ian Kennedy. Pegged as the ace of the staff entering the season, the right-hander has yet to consistently show the top-of-the-line stuff in 2013 that thrust him to the front of the rotation back in 2011.
Continuing the theme of his season to date, Kennedy struggled Sunday, while the D-backs' lineup went hitless with runners in scoring position as the club dropped the series finale to the Brewers, 5-1, at Chase Field.
"Terrible," said Kennedy when asked to describe his first half. "I didn't pitch to my abilities; I was very inconsistent."
While the D-backs can write off their poor offensive showing Sunday as a one-game glitch, the same cannot be said for Kennedy. The right-hander surrendered five runs on nine hits over 6 1/3 innings as his ERA crept even higher to 5.42, the second-worst among NL starters. The 28-year-old has not won since June 1, a span of seven outings.
"He can throw the ball better; I know it, and he knows it, so we'll work on that," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He's busting his tail. He's frustrated with his performances, as anybody would be."
As has also been the case for him this season, Kennedy on Sunday struggled to put batters away with two strikes, especially early on. The first four Brewers of the game singled on two-strike counts, putting the D-backs in a 3-0 hole in the first inning.
After another two hits and a safety squeeze bunt in the second added to Milwaukee's lead, Kennedy worked consecutive 1-2-3 innings before Logan Schafer launched a solo blast to right field in the fifth, on another two-strike count.
"The secondary stuff isn't as sharp; he used to be a guy that would get punchouts with changeups and curveballs, but that hasn't happened," Miguel Montero said. "Right now, he might be in his head a little bit, and that's when he gets in trouble. It's been a tough year for him. Sometimes you lose your confidence; I've gone through the same thing. Hopefully these four days can refresh him, and he'll get a new start for the second half."
The D-backs know how important getting Kennedy back on track will be for their playoff push. In the midst of the Brewers' hit barrage early Sunday, Gibson made a rare coaching visit to the mound, and television cameras showed him heatedly jawing at his pitcher. While neither Gibson nor Kennedy would divulge what was said in the meeting, both said the point of it all was to light a fire under the righty.
After the talk, Kennedy went on to retire the next seven batters he faced before serving up the homer to Schafer.
"I thought it needed to be said, and I think it was well received," Gibson said. "He needed to get his butt going, and he did. I'd just like to see him do that out of the gate."
Said Kennedy: "It was basically make adjustments quicker, and I knew if I didn't, I'd be out of the game. He didn't say that, but I knew what he meant. I know he expects a lot out of me, and I expect a lot out of myself."
Kennedy added that he remained confident despite his results, but he is looking forward to getting away from the game for the next couple of days.
"It'll be nice to relax," said Kennedy, who will start the D-backs' first game back Friday. "It has been frustrating, but I'll have the break to think things through."
Although Kennedy and the D-backs were not able to finish the first half of the season on a high note, the club nevertheless enters the All-Star break atop the National League West standings, leading the Dodgers by 2 1/2 games. Arizona went 8-4 over its last 12 games, including 6-4 in the recent 10-game homestand.
"We're in first place; we've had a lot of trials and tribulations, but the team has hung in there well," Gibson said. "We've stuck together."
Offensively Sunday, the D-backs went 0-for-6 with RISP, as their sole run came on Miguel Montero's second homer as many days. Arizona put runners on the corners with one out in the first but came up empty when Aaron Hill grounded into an inning-ending double play. The club again put two men on with one down in the second, only to see Didi Gregorius fly out and Kennedy strike out to end the threat.
Down by four in the sixth, the D-backs wasted their best chance for a comeback when, after the first two batters of the inning singled, the next three went down in order, including strikeouts by Hill and Jason Kubel against Brewers starter Willy Peralta.
"We had some things going, and he got out of it with some double plays," Gibson said. "Give him credit for shutting us down like that as we tried to chip away at the lead. If we get those runs, it's a different game."
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.