Kennedy can't command in comeback

Kennedy falls in comeback

ST. PETERSBURG -- When the Yankees' road trip opened a city ago, Ian Kennedy couldn't help but glance at the scoreboard in whatever Triple-A park he was working, looking toward the day he could help the big league club again.

Kennedy must wait at least another turn for that, and the Yankees' patience will be tested as well. Kennedy was hit for five runs in five innings on Thursday as New York dropped the series finale to the Rays, 5-2, at Tropicana Field.

Freshly promoted from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the right-hander ran into trouble immediately, as Akinori Iwamura led off with a home run. It didn't get a whole lot better from there, as Shawn Riggans also clubbed a two-run homer to send the reeling Yankees into last place in the American League East.

"Obviously, this is not the Ian Kennedy that we all saw last year," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We need to find a way to get him back there."

A first-round selection in the 2006 Draft, Kennedy made a meteoric rise to the big leagues last season, jumping all the way from Class A ball to make three strong September starts, including a victory.

In nine professional starts this year, though, Kennedy has logged just one win -- a May 6 start at Triple-A Charlotte. He has suffered three defeats, all of which have come for the 20-22 Yankees.

"I felt like I was ready," Kennedy said. "I threw that one start [at Charlotte] and I just felt like I had the right mindset. Tonight didn't show it, but I felt like I was mentally a lot different, where I was still attacking guys."

Given the rough 78-pitch outing, the Yankees were left to try to find signs of positive progress from Kennedy, who figures to be given additional chances after Kei Igawa flopped in a three-inning start last weekend and was finally demoted Thursday.

Kennedy allowed a run in the third inning on a bases-loaded, no-outs sacrifice fly to Carl Crawford, and said that would have been one of the situations where he would have probably given up at least two or three runs last month. Instead, Kennedy settled down after the long fly ball and got a groundout and strikeout to escape.

"I think I belong here and I want to work out my problems here," Kennedy said. "I understand it's a business and you want to win. You get sent down and you work out things down there, and you come right back and you still aren't the same. It's frustrating sometimes."

The Yankees would like to see more variety from Kennedy, who got through five subpar innings with basically just two effective pitches -- his fastball and changeup. Tampa Bay took a 4-0 lead in the fourth on Riggans' third home run, a two-run shot to left.

Kennedy also allowed a B.J. Upton sacrifice fly in the fifth before exiting, and when informed of Girardi's analysis that he wasn't the Kennedy of '07, the rookie said he doesn't feel as far off as some might think.

"I think mentally I'm going after guys," Kennedy said. "Tonight I only had one walk and that was after battling 3-2. That was the main thing I was having trouble with, and I think I'm going in the right direction."

The same cannot be said for the Yankees offense, which managed just two runs off of Rays starting pitching in the entire series, and none on Thursday facing Scott Kazmir. The Yankees have lost six of nine.

"You expect to score a lot of runs with this offense, and it has not happened on a consistent basis," Girardi said. "We need to figure it out, all of us -- coaches, me, players, everyone -- how you turn it around."

One day after the Rays announced a three-year, $28.5 million contract extension for Kazmir, the left-hander was splendid in shutting the Yankees out through six innings. Kazmir took a no-hitter into the fourth inning and scattered three hits overall -- all singles -- walking three and striking out three.

"You look at a guy like Kazmir today, and he threw 50 fastballs in a row," Girardi said. "We get one hit. That's not good. We're a better hitting club than this. They threw the ball well and did the things well that have to be done to win three out of four. We did not."

The Yankees broke through with two runs in the seventh, facing reliever Gary Glover. Robinson Cano opened the inning with a single and moved up on a Jose Molina hit before Melky Cabrera drilled a run-scoring single to center.

Derek Jeter followed with another hit up the middle to bring home New York's second run, but the Yankees went quietly in the eighth against Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival -- who blew a save on Tuesday vs. New York -- came back to strike out two in the ninth as he recorded his 10th save in 12 chances.

"We had some good at-bats this series, but unfortunately that doesn't really matter," said Johnny Damon, who went 0-for-5 Thursday and is hitless in his last 13 at-bats.

"There's not much luck going on right now. We've got to keep battling. These guys in here, we're all tough."

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