Yankees manager Joe Torre confirmed on Tuesday that the club will skip the 38-year-old right-hander for at least his next turn through the rotation. Instead, Ian Kennedy, a highly touted Minor League prospect, will make his big league debut on Saturday against the Devil Rays.
Torre said he broke the news to Mussina in a one-on-one meeting after the Yankees completed batting practice on Tuesday, prior to a 5-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
"He was disappointed," Torre said. "That's one of the tough conversations to have to have. He was down about it. But he's a teammate -- he was out there at the end of the game, shaking hands like everybody else."
Mussina's performance fell off rapidly following a four-start winning streak that carried him into mid-August. The veteran allowed nine hits and six runs over three innings in a 16-0 Yankees loss at Detroit on Monday; his last three starts have produced 25 hits and 20 runs (19 earned) over 9 2/3 innings, a 17.69 ERA.
Overall, Mussina is 8-10 with a 5.53 ERA in 23 starts for New York this season, the first year of a two-year, $23 million contract signed over the winter. He did not speak to reporters before leaving Yankee Stadium on Tuesday.
Torre said that he encouraged Mussina to continue his normal throwing program and left open the possibility that Mussina could rejoin the rotation after the Devil Rays series. Torre seemed to rule out the idea of using Mussina in relief.
"I'm really not thinking about him as a guy coming out of the bullpen," Torre said. "We'll skip the one start and see what we see. We'll look at it and we'll make an evaluation."
Kennedy, 22, was the Yankees' first-round selection in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft from the University of Southern California. A finesse pitcher who has been compared to Mussina in terms of his command and approach, Kennedy features a low-90s fastball, a changeup, a knuckle-curve and a slider as part of his repertoire.
"We're at a point in the season, with 30 games left, [where] we're going to take what we can and run out whatever we can for as long as we can," Torre said.
Like the Yankees' Joba Chamberlain, Kennedy will be completing a meteoric jump from Class A ball to the Major Leagues in his first full professional season. Kennedy was 6-1 with a 1.29 ERA in 11 games (10 starts) for Class A Tampa and went 5-1 with a 2.59 ERA in nine starts for Double-A Trenton before joining the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.
At Triple-A, Kennedy had gone 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in six starts, walking 11 and striking out 34 in 34 2/3 innings. Opposing batters hit just .182 against Kennedy in 146 1/3 cumulative Minor League innings, though he suffered his first International League loss in his last start, an Aug. 25 defeat at Buffalo in which he allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings.
"He's my best friend and didn't even text [message] me," Chamberlain said. "I'm going to have to get on him about that. It's great. He deserves all of it. I can't wait for him to get up here and experience what's been going on. To see the young guys come in and help, that's great. He deserves every single thing that he's got.
"He's got great mound presence. He understands how to pitch and how to get outs. He's going to do a great job, and it's going to be exciting to see a guy that I've learned to love. To be able to watch him from A-ball to the big leagues in one year is going to be amazing."
Kennedy is primed to become the eighth rookie pitcher to start a game for the Yankees this season, joining Tyler Clippard, Matt DeSalvo, Phil Hughes, Kei Igawa, Jeff Karstens, Darrell Rasner and Chase Wright.
Hughes, who last pitched on Sunday at Detroit, said that the promise of promoting top-level talent to the Major Leagues has renewed hope in a system that was once well-known for shipping out young players as bait for more experienced personnel.
"That's the way it was for a while," Hughes said. "Now, a lot of guys are getting opportunities. It's definitely different. Instead of saying, 'I'll never get out of this spot that I'm in,' [players are saying], 'When am I going to get out of this spot?' I haven't been around that long, but it's definitely changed from when I was first here."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.