04/26/08 9:40 PM ET
Yankees employing right strategy
Young pitching struggles a minor detour for long-term success
The Yankees' emphasis on player development, as opposed to player purchase, and the resulting reliance on young pitchers, is the intelligent long-term approach for this organization to take. At the moment, it's just not producing a flood of victories. To be more precise, it is not producing any victories. But that would be the short-term view.
The two young, homegrown pitchers currently in the Yankees' rotation, Phil Hughes, 21, and Ian Kennedy, 23, have nine starts and no victories between them.
In a situation such as this, you take encouragement where it might be found. Kennedy, who had been the less effective of the two, entered Saturday's game against the Indians with a 9.64 ERA. His five innings on Saturday were at times laborious, but he did not lose.
Kennedy gave up three runs, all of them in the second inning. He gave up only four hits, all of them singles, but he walked four, including two in the second, both of which figured in the Cleveland scoring.
"Nothing was hit that hard, but I'm walking too many guys," Kennedy said, accurately and succinctly.
Kennedy had to throw 105 pitches to get through five innings, but he did pull himself together to retire the last seven batters he faced.
"That gives me a lot of confidence going into the next one," he said.
For Yankees manager Joe Girardi, Kennedy's recovery after the second also represented a reason for encouragement.
"He had a tough second inning, but he got back on track, which is encouraging," Girardi said. "He settled down nice after the second and gave us a chance to win.
"He did a decent job today. He had one bad inning. I'm not happy with what he did, but it's better, and it's in the right direction. By saying that, you can write, 'Girardi's not happy,' but I'm just saying he's better than that, and I know he can pitch better than that. I believe that this kid can pitch."
Two questions arise, one specific, one general. Specifically, in the absence of an actual victory or dramatically improved performance, what is Kennedy's future in the rotation? Girardi was less than enthralled with this line of postgame questioning from the reporters.
"You guys ask me these questions before we have a chance to talk as a group and to my general manager," he said. "You guys are asking me to make decisions without talking to anyone.
"He's in our rotation. I don't mean to get irritated, but we talk as a group, as an organization, we talk about what's best for all of our pieces. We've been in here two minutes. I'm not getting angry, I'm just saying he's in our rotation today. He's in our rotation. He's in our rotation."
And in the larger sense, will the Yankees have the organizational patience to stay the course with the development of the young talent, even if it means the unthinkable, such as missing the postseason for the first time in forever?
Stay tuned on that one. In the case of Kennedy, asking someone with 26 Minor League starts in his life to fill a spot in this rotation and succeed immediately might be asking a lot. Kennedy pitched well in three September starts for the Yankees last season, but being placed in the rotation this spring puts the pressure squarely upon him. And the pressure doesn't relent.
The Indians had a parallel on the mound on Saturday, lefty Jeremy Sowers, 24, like Kennedy a first-round Draft choice. Sowers had success at the end of the 2006 season, but he struggled at the beginning of '07 and was sent down. He's back up now, replacing the injured Jake Westbrook in the Indians' rotation. He left the game with a 3-0 lead in the sixth with the bases loaded. The Cleveland bullpen eventually allowed all of his runs to score, but there was little question that he pitched with more consistent command than Kennedy, walking only one.
If more seasoning is in order for Kennedy, the Yankees' alternatives, at this point, appear to be Darrell Rasner and Kei Igawa. Rasner at least has been pitching very well at Triple-A.
Joba Chamberlain, the focal point of any Yankees' discussion these days, may become a starter at some point. But he is not going to become one overnight. And the harsh reality is that the Yankees' already-questionable bullpen depth took a hit with the injury to Brian Bruney. The Yankees look much less imposing without Chamberlain pitching in the late innings, just as they did on Saturday when he was not available.
The Yankees have done the sound and sensible thing by making player development, particularly the development of young pitching, their organizational focus. The problem is, with young pitching, bumps in the road are almost inevitable.
Kennedy and Hughes have struggled here. But this team is still better off for the long haul with them learning their trade than it was where it had gone in recent seasons with big names -- aging, overpaid and no longer capable of pitching up to their reputations. At least this approach has the potential for a viable future.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.