The Yankees went into last season with two rookies at the back of their rotation. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy were both highly regarded prospects handed jobs in spring training based on their brief 2007 stints with the club and their sheer talent. One disastrous season later, both are likely to start the year in Triple-A, fallen stars who must rehabilitate their pitching reputations. Kennedy has drawn the ire of Yankees fans for his seemingly poor attitude, and Hughes cannot stay healthy enough to establish any sort of consistency on the mound. However, both seem ready to put in the work necessary to recapture their former standing within the organization:
“I cleaned up some things mechanically and got my arm strength up,” Hughes said. “I feel like I was in good shape last spring, but I’ve put on some good weight and worked on my changeup. My curveball is back to where I’d like it to be from 2006 and early ’07, so I feel confident.”
Hoping to avoid a third consecutive year of injuries, Hughes spent four days a week training at the Athletes’ Performance Institute in Los Angeles. Concentrating on upper body strength, Hughes added eight pounds to inch up to 240, where he was in 2006 — his last full healthy season. “I know what I’m capable of doing,” Hughes said, “but I still have to go out and show that I can do it on the highest level.”
Kennedy’s perceived lack of aggressiveness frustrated Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland, giving the impression that he did not trust his stuff. He was 0-4 with an 8.17 ERA in 10 appearances (nine starts) over three stints with New York, allowing opponents to bat .309 against him. His last big league start came on Aug. 8, when Kennedy was dispatched to Anaheim after Joba Chamberlain was forced to the disabled list. Kennedy was shelled, allowing five runs in two-plus innings, and raised eyebrows when he told reporters that he was “just not real upset about it.”
Kennedy said a turning point came in the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he spun a league-leading 1.56 ERA in six starts for Mayaguez. While there, Kennedy tweaked his curveball and recaptured some of his chutzpah. “I feel like I grew as a pitcher, just as far as maturity and making in-game adjustments rather than postgame or post-inning,” Kennedy said. “This offseason, knowing that every other day someone signed, it still didn’t change my mentality. I knew if I wanted to make any part of the rotation or have a spot, I’d have to work really hard and come to Spring Training ready. All I can do is work hard and show them that I want this, that I want to have the chance again.”
Spring Training articles are typically excessively positive, but these quotes are noteworthy nonetheless. It is good to see that Hughes is working on his pitching form, as his performance struggles and injuries may stem from inconsistent mechanics. In regard to Kennedy, he needs to pound the zone with his wide repertoire of pitches, and building the confidence to do so without dominant stuff takes time and experience. Hopefully both pitchers find their way, giving the Yankees pitching depth that could rival any staff in baseball.
What do you think? What do you expect from these two in 2009? How about the future?
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