Even on off days, Kennedy makes do

Even on off days, Kennedy makes do

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- When Ian Kennedy was starting out at the University of Southern California, the pitchers on campus had a phrase they'd shoot around the dugout: "Terrible Twos."

The theory, Kennedy said, was that the first and fifth innings present the most damage for pitchers. In the first inning, you're trying to find your feel, while in the fifth, you hit cruise control just as batters are seeing your offerings for the third time.

"That's the way I heard it," Kennedy said. "The 'Terrible Twos' always got me in the first inning."

Life as a professional hasn't changed much for Kennedy. He put the Yankees in an early hole on Tuesday at Chain of Lakes Park, serving up four runs -- all of them unearned -- after Melky Cabrera flubbed a fly ball to center.

The ball, hit by Cleveland leadoff man Grady Sizemore, set the tone for events to come. Saying that he wasn't even quite sure where the ball was going, Kennedy gave up a two-out double to Jhonny Peralta and a long three-run homer to Ryan Garko before finally escaping the inning.

"You know it's going to be a battle," said Kennedy, who did not factor in the decision, a 7-5 Yankees loss. "I knew right after the first batter. I thought it was going to be fine. 'Let him score. Who cares?' Then they ended up scoring a couple of more runs."

Back in the dugout, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he implored Kennedy -- likely New York's fifth starter when the club goes north -- to shake off the early troubles and focus on keeping the team in the game.

"He didn't have his good stuff today, and he battled," Girardi said. "He put up some zeros after that tough first inning, and you're going to have to do that on occasion. You're not always going to go out there with your best stuff, and I thought he battled pretty well.

"He has different weapons he can go to. Maybe he's not sharp with his fastball -- he can go to his changeup and his curveball or slider. I think that's why he's able to pitch when he doesn't have his effective stuff."

By the time Kennedy finished his 4 2/3-inning start, the Yankees were in position to regain the lead -- they tied the game with a three-run sixth inning. On a day when not much went right for Kennedy, that alone should serve as a lesson to be used during the regular season.

"With our offense, you can do that," Kennedy said. "If you keep them within four or five, the game's not over. Our offense is so good that we can [catch] up to anybody as soon as we kick their starter out. As soon as you get to the middle-relief guys, that's when our offense is kind of scary."

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Kennedy was done after 91 pitches (47 strikes), walking four and striking out three. Were it the real thing, he said he could have at least sniffed the sixth inning, something he has been unable to do this spring.

Regardless, Kennedy said that the outing -- his last against big league competition before the regular season begins -- had its benefits, despite the ugly final line.

"I tried to get the best I could out of it, which was [that] I competed and I didn't fold the cards," Kennedy said.

When the Yankees pack up in Tampa, Fla., after Thursday's game, Kennedy is expected to remain behind, pitching in a Minor League game on Sunday while the team holds an informal workout at Yankee Stadium. Kennedy will then hop a jet to New York, beginning the clock turnover to his first scheduled start on April 5 against Tampa Bay.

Kennedy said that no matter who he faces, Major League or Minor League, the same qualities apply. He needs to get ahead of hitters and be able to throw his offspeed pitches for strikes.

As it was reinforced on Tuesday, it also wouldn't hurt to keep the opposition within three runs. The way the Yankees are going to slug this year, a pitcher can get away with being a little "Terrible" now and again.

"I think I can compete against any team and give our team a chance to win," Kennedy said. "I can keep us within three runs."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.