I’m not going to mince words about Ian Kennedy’s start today. It went about as poorly as anyone could hope.
Kennedy faced 16 batters tonight in just over two innings of work. He gave up nine hits and a walke en route to a five-earned run performance. On the season, he is now 0-4 with an 8.17 ERA, and opponents are simply teeing off against him.
As we saw with Kennedy in April and May, his approach at the Big League level seems off. He can dominate Minor League hitters, but he hasn’t yet made that jump up to the highest level of competition. For two-plus innings tonight, I saw Ian Kennedy miss with his breaking pitches and nibble at the corners. When he had to make pitches in hitter’s counts, he offered up 89-mile-per-hour fastballs that were drilled for base hits.
After Kennedy left, Darrell Rasner and Brian Bruney, pitching for the fifth time since coming off the DL and the fourth time in the last five days, combined to allow five runs on eight hits in six innings. While Kennedy didn’t do the job, neither did the bullpen, and a woudla-coulda-shoulda comeback by the Yanks — they were within one after a two-run sixth — never really came to fruition.
We could point fingers at the bullpen, but everyone knows this game is on Kennedy’s shoulders. As Ed Price noted during the game, the stats aren’t pretty. Kennedy has become the first Yankee rookie to win his first Big League start and then go winless in his next 11 outings. His ERA to date puts him in some rather unrarefied company as well.
Now, over the course of this season and especially tonight, we’ve long been accused of being Ian Kennedy apologists. We, our detractors say, have a blind faith in a young man who hasn’t yet shown that he can succeed above AAA. We are too willing to look beyond his short-coming and predict him as the next Mike Mussina, the next Tom Glavine, if only he would attack Major League hitters.
Tonight, I’m not going to offer up apologies for Kennedy. He was terrible. But — and you knew a “but” was coming — the idea that he’s finished as a prospect, that he sucks, that he will never amount to anything is simply wrong, and in responding to that spurious line of thinking, we are labeled apologists.
Kennedy now has a whopping 58.2 innings of Major League experience under his belt. In 19 of those innings, he was pretty damn good; in 39.2, he was pretty terrible. And it’s simply impossible to judge a pitcher based on 58.2 innings.
Everyone involved with the team from Hank Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman on down knows that, with a plan that includes young pitchers, growing pains are part of the bargain. Sustained future success is more important that short-term, one-year victories, and if that future success means watching 23-year-old First Round draft picks struggle, then so be it. The Yankees are willing to accept that because they know the dividends it can pay. The fans want everything now, now, now.
Who knows what Ian Kennedy will become? He could be another member in a very long line of failed pitching prospects that dot baseball history; he could become a serviceable middle-of-the-rotation guy; he could triumph over this adversity and deal in the Majors as he has through every other level of professional baseball. But right now, we just don’t know what he’ll do, and 39.2 innings this year just isn’t enough to pass judgment. Kennedy haters can call us apologists, but I like to think of it as a more discerning approach to analyzing baseball.