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Yankees pull Mussina from rotation

Mike Mussina's struggle may send him to the bullpen
08/28/2007 10:55 PM ET
By The Associated Press

Mussina has struggled lately. (AP)
NEW YORK (AP) -- After winning 247 games in the major leagues, Mike Mussina lost his spot in the New York Yankees' rotation Tuesday.

Following three terrible starts in a row, the 38-year-old right-hander was told by manager Joe Torre that he'll be passed over for his next scheduled start Saturday against Tampa Bay.

"He was disappointed, naturally. This was very difficult for me," Torre said. "We have relied on him every year since he's been here."

The Yankees will call up touted prospect Ian Kennedy, a first-round draft pick last year, from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to pitch against the last-place Devil Rays in the middle of a pennant race.

How long Kennedy stays in the rotation will depend on how well he pitches.

"It's basically what we're getting from that spot. That's what you look at first," Torre said.

Mussina refused comment as he walked out of the clubhouse following New York's 5-3 victory over Boston on Tuesday night.

Torre didn't say whether he would consider using Mussina out of the bullpen. The manager said he spoke to Mussina and said: "`Keep doing what you're doing. Keep doing your work. Keep doing your throwing so you don't lose that, the arm strength part of it."'

Not long ago, Mussina was the team's top starter, but he has faded fast. After going 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA last season, he is 8-10 with a 5.53 ERA this year. He has a 17.69 ERA in his past three starts, struggling with velocity and control.

Kennedy, who pitched for Scranton last Saturday, is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in six starts at Triple-A. The 22-year-old right-hander played college ball at Southern California.

"He's got great mound presence," said Yankees rookie Joba Chamberlain, who called Kennedy his best friend. "He understands how to pitch and how to get outs. He's going to come up and do a great job. It's going to be exciting to see."

Before the game, Torre said he wanted to speak with Mussina about his recent struggles before making a decision. He said the pitcher "earned that conversation" because of "who he is and what he's done."

"I just want to hear how he feels, and from there we'll talk about what we're going to do," Torre said before the game.

"Some conversations are difficult to have," he added. "I hope he makes it easy on me."

Mussina's last three starts have been particularly alarming. He has allowed 19 earned runs in 9 2-3 innings spanning two outings against the hard-hitting Detroit Tigers and one against the Los Angeles Angels.

Before this slump, Mussina won four straight starts -- giving up eight runs in all -- and improved to 8-7.

Has he run out of gas? Does he need a breather?

Or, is he completely finished? That's certainly what Yankees fans are afraid of, especially since Mussina has a year remaining on his $23 million, two-year contract.

Mussina and Torre have both said they think the right-hander has more productivity left, but the Yankees decided they couldn't afford to wait for him to find his form.

New York heads into the final month of the season fighting for a playoff spot, so every game is crucial. The Yankees began the day two games behind Seattle, the AL wild-card leader. With their victory over Boston, they pulled within seven games of the first-place Red Sox in the AL East.

"You like to be loyal to all your players. But loyalty to all 25 comes before loyalty to any individual," Torre said.

The manager added that he spoke to Mussina recently about the possibility of skipping a turn if he thought that might benefit him.

"I know he's probably looked at some video to see if there's anything with his mechanics," Torre said. "He's obviously at times trying to make more perfect pitches than he's probably capable of making."

Mussina didn't speak with reporters before the game, either. He talked on his cell phone at his locker after batting practice, then dashed off to a team meeting.

His latest flop, three ineffective innings Monday night in a 16-0 loss at Detroit, dropped Mussina to 0-7 following Yankees losses this year. It also left him visibly dejected. Mussina said he would "understand" if Torre went with another pitcher next time through the rotation.

"Two weeks ago I felt really good about the way I was throwing the ball," Mussina said Monday night. "Two weeks later it's completely at the other end of the spectrum and I really don't feel like I can do much of anything right, and I haven't helped us at all in the last three games that I pitched. It's disappointing.

"I don't even know how to describe it because I've never had to deal with it before," he added.

Mussina was hurt by some bad luck and poor defense Monday night, which Torre noted.

"There were some balls that with any kind of luck he would have had a better result. I know he wasn't happy with it," Torre said. "He threw more strikes, gave himself more of a chance. I thought it was better. I thought he was a little freer throwing the ball. I thought he got frustrated quicker."

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