Rasner, called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before Sunday's game to take the place of the injured Hughes, pitched six strong innings in his season debut to help the Yankees cruise to an 8-2 victory over the Mariners before a sun-warmed crowd of 53,542 at Yankee Stadium. Rasner took the roster spot previously held by Kennedy, who was sent to Triple-A to work on his game.
Rasner, who suffered a season-ending right finger injury when the Yankees gave him a chance last May, took the mound on Sunday and carried on the same way he'd been pitching in Scranton -- with much success. And he had a lot of help from a Yankees offense that raked Mariners pitching for 14 hits, including six in a six-run third inning that was New York's biggest single-inning outburst this season.
"I didn't put any extra thought into what went on," Rasner said when asked about how much stock the Yankees had invested in Hughes and Kennedy being successful this season. "I wanted to go out every day and pitch, and pitch well. I knew there would be an opportunity, because we used so many pitchers last year. I wanted to heal and be sharp and give myself that opportunity."
Rasner gave up a two-out single that was followed by a two-run homer by Adrian Beltre in the first inning. After that, the Nevada-born righty gave up only three hits in a six-inning effort that included four strikeouts and no walks.
"He had command of both sides of the plate," said catcher Chad Moeller. "The first inning, it looked like he was just trying to get comfortable out there. He looked committed to his pitches after the first.
Rasner, who posted an impressive 4-0 record at Scranton and gave up just 18 hits and six walks in 31 innings there, threw 76 pitches, including 49 strikes.
"He was able to take a breath, and then it turned into just a game," Moeller said. "He got out of it, and after that, I could see the difference. He was really starting to roll as the game went on. He was right where he wanted to be. He threw a lot of strikes, worked quickly, kept the defense on its toes and avoided the dreaded walk."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who said before the game that Rasner will get another start -- either Friday or Saturday in Detroit -- was pleased but not terribly surprised by the starter's effort.
Girardi said it was important that Rasner pounded the strike zone because it helped the Yankees' defense stay alert and the offense rise with no deficit to close.
"You still have to make quality pitches," Girardi said. "But obviously, if you aren't walking people, your control is good."
Rasner began his professional career in 2002 with the Nationals, then the Montreal Expos, and the Yankees claimed him off waivers in 2006. He was pitching in a loss to the Mets at Shea Stadium last May 19, when he was hit on the right hand by a one-hopper. He underwent surgery on May 20 to have his fractured index finger repaired and was done for the year, save for a couple of rehabilitation appearances.
Girardi said that Rasner had a chance to make the team this spring, but the Yankees had committed to Hughes and Kennedy, two recent first-round Draft choices. Rasner said he had no hard feelings, or great expectations.
"It was tough -- it was disappointing," Rasner said when he learned that he was to start the season in Scranton. "But what am I going to do about it? I'm not going to whine. I'm going to be professional, and I'm going to be ready to pitch every five days.
"I just needed some innings under my belt, because last year, I didn't pitch too much. It has been a long year, a long time. I'm going to do my best to help this team out and try to run with this opportunity."
If Rasner keeps getting the kind of offensive support he did on Sunday, it will make his cause easier.
Leadoff hitter Johnny Damon, as he did on Saturday, sparked the Yankees' offense, leading the way during the six-run third inning in which the Yankees batted around. Derek Jeter, who has seven hits in his past nine at-bats, singled off Mariners starter Carlos Silva, who took the mound with a 3-0 record but nothing on his sinker and left after giving up eight runs on 11 hits in three-plus innings.
Bobby Abreu singled home the first Yankees run, and Hideki Matsui hit a ground-rule double to drive home another. Jason Giambi contributed a sacrifice fly before Melky Cabrera slammed his team-leading sixth home run for two more runs, and Robinson Cano followed with a solo shot.
Damon and Jeter led off the fourth with singles and both scored.
Damon, Jeter, Abreu and Matsui, the top four hitters in the order, were 11-for-18 with six runs scored and four RBIs.
"It was nice to see us put some runs together," Girardi said after his team completed a three-game sweep.
Rasner would certainly agree. The Yankees' off-day on Monday will be sweet.
Kit Stier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.