Game's biggest stage awaits Kennedy

Game's biggest stage awaits Kennedy

The Yankees have taken on a distinctly different look over the course of this season. Once a team dominated by veterans, they have since added youth. And when that worked, they added more youth. And more youth.

And on Saturday afternoon, they'll add even more -- this time in the form of 22-year-old rookie starter Ian Kennedy. Just over a year removed from the First-Year Player Draft and not three months removed from playing Class A ball at Tampa, Kennedy will head to Yankee Stadium to make his Major League debut against the Devil Rays.

Kennedy's start is not without precedent. It's merely the latest in a string of rookie contributions that have infused the Yankees with young talent. First, top-rated prospect Phil Hughes got the call to join the rotation in early April, and he's since made eight starts for the team. Then, 21-year-old Joba Chamberlain -- another member of the 2006 Draft class -- came to the Bronx in early August, transitioning into a dominant setup man in the process.

Now, it's Kennedy's turn, and Chamberlain is quick to give his friend some advice.

"The game is a little faster up here, and you can let it get ahead of you," Chamberlain said. "So you have to be able to slow it down and understand that the game doesn't go until you want to make it go."

In the Minors, Kennedy seemed just fine at any speed. He rocketed through the system, making 10 starts in Class A, another nine at Double-A Trenton and, most recently, six at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. In no stop on that tour did he post an ERA higher than 2.59.

Kennedy doesn't overpower, instead he relies on a dynamic changeup to complement his fastball, slider and curve. Scouts compare him with a young Mike Mussina -- ironic, considering that Mussina's the man he's replacing in the rotation. Manager Joe Torre said earlier this week that Kennedy could pitch his way into a permanent job, depending on how well he performs in his debut.

Though the Yankees have strict limits when it comes to how many innings their top young prospects can pitch each year, Kennedy has stayed well below his ceiling even while rocketing through the system. General manager Brian Cashman said that Kennedy could remain in the rotation for the rest of the season -- and through October -- without a problem.

But that doesn't mean there won't be limits. Torre said that Kennedy likely will not throw more than 100 pitches, and that number could fall even lower, depending on circumstances.

"Sometimes, when you have 50,000 people, it exhausts you a little more than maybe 5,000," Torre said. "But again, most of it's going to come from how comfortable he appears to be, more so than the physical beating he can take."

The Yankees hope he won't take much of a beating at all -- and if his early success is any guide, he likely won't. Especially not if he follows the lead of his friend.

"I just told him to trust himself, to understand that [the mound is] 60 feet, six inches still," Chamberlain said. "They don't move it back. His stuff is good enough to get outs right now. He's going to be very successful."

The Devil Rays counter with a youngster of their own, 24-year-old Edwin Jackson.

Pitching matchup
TB: RHP Edwin Jackson (4-12, 5.51 ERA)
Jackson hasn't stopped issuing walks -- he averages one every other inning -- but he has stopped allowing all those runners to score. So after posting an ERA no lower than 5.74 over the season's first four months, he finished August with a 2.45 mark. A good chunk of his pre-August success came against the Yankees, whom he held to a combined four runs over two starts.

NYY: RHP Ian Kennedy (Major League debut)
Kennedy hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any start since joining Scranton Wilkes-Barre in late July. He held a 1-1 record with a 2.08 ERA in six starts with Scranton after posting a 5-1 record with a 2.59 ERA in nine starts with Trenton. Batters at all levels of the Minors have combined to hit .182 against him this season.

Player to watch
Shortstop Derek Jeter has three hits in six at-bats against Jackson, including a home run. He's also walked once and driven in three runs.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• YES

On radio
• WCBS, 92.7 WQBU (Español)

Up next
• Sunday: Devil Rays (Jason Hammel, 1-4, 7.44) at Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 12-7, 3.70), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Monday: Mariners (Felix Hernandez, 10-7, 4.08) at Yankees (Roger Clemens, 6-5, 4.15), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Tuesday: Mariners (Horacio Ramirez, 8-4, 6.55) at Yankees (Chien-Ming Wang, 16-6, 3.79), 7:05 p.m. ET

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.