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Latest loss drops Yanks below .500

Latest loss drops Yanks below .500

BALTIMORE -- Ian Kennedy turned and watched as Aubrey Huff's first-inning fly ball sailed toward the fence in left-center field, then exhaled as center fielder Melky Cabrera hauled in the blast a few feet short of a grand slam.

If Kennedy thought he had escaped a precarious start, he was fooling himself. The right-hander struggled with his command, and the Baltimore Orioles were more than willing to buy into his tentative approach.

"You get bases loaded with two outs and the big, deep hit, so you think you've got through it and everything's fine," said Kennedy, who didn't get out of the third inning in a 6-0 Yankees loss to the Orioles (11-7) on Saturday night. "I don't know. Bad day."

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If nothing else, the 23-year-old Kennedy, upon whom the Yankees are counting to team with fellow rookie righty Phil Hughes to build a rotation cornerstone, has mastered the art of the understatement. Manager Joe Girardi, however, wasn't about to let Kennedy depart Camden Yards without a blunt critique of what he contributed -- or was unable to contribute -- while New York was blanked on six hits by the unlikely shutdown tandem of Brian Burres and Jim Johnson.

"It's hard to pitch the way he's pitching," Girardi said of Kennedy. "You have to attack the zone. Five walks, 17 hitters and 10 three-ball counts -- you can't pitch that way. You have to attack the zone and throw strikes. ... You make all hitters better when you're behind them."

Kennedy created jams all night long before he was finally pulled after 85 pitches. Getting through the first inning -- he loaded the bases with two outs on an infield single by Melvin Mora and walks to Nick Markakis and Luke Scott before Huff's deep out -- was only the beginning of the end.

"It's all mental, I would think," Kennedy said. "Also sometimes, the counts can make you get like that. That's when I've got to kick myself in the butt and say, 'Go right after it.' I just didn't do that tonight."

Batter after batter, Kennedy (0-2) nitpicked instead of challenging Orioles hitters who were content to take a passive approach. Consecutive doubles by Ramon Hernandez and Brandon Fahey in the second put the Orioles on top, 1-0.

By the third inning, when he was ready to be aggressive, Kennedy couldn't.

"I knew I threw a lot of pitches -- I thought around 50, 55," Kennedy said. "So I figured you've got to go right after them and make them put it in play, and I just didn't do that. These guys are too good to do that and fall behind."

With one out, Kennedy got Kevin Millar in an 0-1 hole before a hanging slider wound up in the left-center-field stands. Scott and Huff followed with walks and he went 3-0 on Hernandez before throwing a strike that Hernandez promptly crushed to the base of the wall in center field for a two-run double.

"Mechanics and everything, I'm fine," Kennedy said. "The arm feels great, mechanics feel good. All my pitches look good. Sometimes I might pull off. The only one I thought was real bad was the hanging slider to Millar."

Girardi might beg to differ with Kennedy's self-assessment. Kennedy lasted 2 2/3 innings and gave up four runs on five hits and five walks, striking out four.

"I don't want to get into semantics -- minor, major [adjustments] -- you've just got to throw strikes; that's the bottom line," Girardi said. "I am not a mechanics guy. You've got to throw strikes."

Complicating Kennedy's troubles was the fact that the Yankees (9-10), who were shut out for the second time this season, unable to advance a runner past second base after the third inning, when Cabrera reached on a fielder's choice and stole second.

"We expect to put runs on the board and expect to give the opposing pitcher fits," outfielder Johnny Damon said after going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and two walks. "They've been making it look pretty easy off us. With our offense, it doesn't [seem right]. We're too good of a team not to be able to [score]. We need to figure things out."

Burres (2-1), who usually assumes the role of the nibbling left-hander, was everything Kennedy was not -- aggressive, efficient and able to get ahead in the count. When Burres tired in the sixth after Hideki Matsui's infield hit, Johnson came on to pitch the final 3 1/3 innings for his first career save. Burres allowed five hits, walked four and struck out two.

"That's why pitching is so important -- you're going to go through things like that, where you bang a bunch of hits together, score a bunch of runs and the next night, you never know," Girardi said. "Obviously, we have a very good offense and we're going to score runs most nights. Tonight, we didn't do it."

The Yankees' bullpen, again pressed into duty early after working 13 2/3 innings the previous three games, again provided a lift. Ross Ohlendorf turned in 3 1/3 innings of relief and was charged with two runs when Billy Traber surrendered Huff's two-run double in the seventh.

Joba Chamberlain, back with the Yankees following a stay on the Major League bereavement list to spend time with his ailing father, pitched a scoreless eighth inning. Still, with their season-high third straight loss, the Yankees fell to 0-2 on their 10-game, 11-day road trip, part of a stretch that includes 18 road games out of 20.

Damon thinks the Yankees can weather the storm and give a young pitching prospect room to grow.

"It's stuff we're going to have to deal with," Damon said. "Ian is going to be a big part of this team, now and especially down the stretch. The thing we have to do now is keep walking with our heads up high. We're the New York Yankees, we're a very good team and we're going to be just fine."

Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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