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Youngsters may have to wait longer

Hughes, Kennedy pushed back with Pettitte's return, but that could help
01/27/2009 3:03 PM ET
By Jon Lane / YESNetwork.com

The Yankees hope Ian Kennedy (0-4, 8.17 ERA) can rebound from an awful 2008. (AP)
Andy Pettitte had to be brought back. Despite his poor finish to 2008, Pettitte led the Yankees in innings pitched (204.0) and can still bring it in big games. At this stage of his career, he's a valuable back-end starter for a strong rotation, and will be a big help to A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia with their transition to life in the Bronx.

Pettitte's return also knocks a few of the Yankees' young pitchers back a peg or two on the depth chart. Prior to Pettitte agreeing to a one-year deal, with incentives, to return to the Yankees in 2009, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Alfredo Aceves were among the contenders for a spot in the team's rotation. Now it appears the threesome are destined for more time at Triple-A Scranton, unless Aceves can nab a role in long relief.

That may not be such a bad thing. Hughes and Kennedy began last season in the rotation, and thanks to injury and ineffectiveness went a combined 0-8 in 17 starts. While Hughes is still viewed as, next to Joba Chamberlain, the organization's top young arm, Kennedy's regression was severe. He went 0-4 with an 8.17 ERA and annoyed teammates by saying he was "not real upset" after getting pounded for nine hits and five runs in two innings August 8 in Anaheim. Kennedy often carries a bright disposition, but those words were construed as a sign of immaturity.

Speaking on a conference call Monday afternoon, general manager Brian Cashman admitted he was seduced by Kennedy's 1-0, 1.89 ledger in 2007 when he briefly replaced a slumping Mike Mussina in the rotation. Now that his rotation is at least five-deep, Cashman can afford the luxury of time.

"Ian Kennedy is someone in hindsight, we put too much on him too early," Cashman said. "He looked like someone who was ready to take off. It was the wrong call and I take responsibility for that. What I do know about Ian Kennedy is that he's mentally tough, he's a competitor and he wants to do nothing more than step back and take his rightful place back in the big leagues."

Kennedy responded by posting a 1.56 ERA, with opponents hitting .164 off him, this winter in the Puerto Rican League. And even if he and Hughes were to start the season in the Minors, it could end up as a blessing. The pressure for two former first-round picks to produce immediately will be reduced and more success at Triple-A will be reassurance should the Yankees encounter the inevitable injury to one of their starters. Burnett's injury history can fill a novella. Chien-Ming Wang is coming back from a torn Lisfranc ligament and hasn't pitched since June 15. And not only was Chamberlain felled by rotator cuff tendinitis, the debate on whether to start him or use him as an eighth-inning set-up man will not go away, especially with Mariano Rivera coming off shoulder surgery.

That the Yankees were forced to resort to Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner as two of their starters last season tells you everything you need to know. Even with Pettitte coming off a down year, he's still a proven commodity. And also remember that Mike Mussina was considered finished after 2007. All he did last year was win 20 games for the first time before calling it a career.

"Andy's addition provides so many different things for us," Cashman said. "We have flexibility now, more today than we had yesterday."

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While Rivera hasn't started throwing, Jorge Posada has been on a program for five weeks and was in New York to have his surgically repaired right shoulder examined. Both are expected to be ready by Opening Day, but the plan is to proceed with caution.

"I do have concerns because I have a closer who we desperately need who is coming off shoulder surgery, no matter how minor it may be," Cashman said. "And I have a catcher who is a perennial All-Star and one of the premier players at that position in this game, and a Hall of Fame candidate, who we need to come back. We're keeping our fingers crossed for both of those players."

Jon Lane can be reached at jon.lane@mlb.com.
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