Ian Kennedy stopped trying to be perfect. As a result, he almost was.
The struggling right-hander yielded one hit over 7 1/3 innings in his first Minor League start of the season Tuesday, pitching the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees to a 4-0 victory over the Charlotte Knights at PNC Field.
Kennedy struck out eight, including the final three Knights he faced, and did not walk a batter. He retired the side in order five times.
"It felt like I was close in my last two starts against Cleveland and Detroit," he said. "I think it was just one bad inning in each of those outings and I felt like I was getting better and gaining confidence."
His struggles in the Major Leagues were well-documented as Kennedy went 0-2 with an 8.37 ERA in six games, including five starts. He was assigned to the International League on Sunday and replaced in the New York rotation by Darrell Rasner, whose spot he filled in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation.
"They could tell something was bothering me," said Kennedy, who learned of the demotion while jogging in the outfield with pitchers Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina. "Andy was supportive and Moose offered some tips about the pressure we put on ourselves to compete. They both told me to just do my thing and get back up there."
Kennedy wasted little time heeding that advice.
Pitching with poise and command -- 58 of the 90 pitches he threw were strikes -- Kennedy retired the first eight batters before plunking Fernando Cortez with two outs in the third inning. He didn't allow another baserunner, save for Jerry Owens, who broke up the no-hitter with a single in the sixth.
"My changeup was there tonight. I didn't throw many changeups that weren't strikes, either called strikes or ones that got swings and misses," Kennedy said. "[Catcher] Chris Stewart and I established fastball command the first time through the order and then started to mix in more and more changeups. I was really happy with the bite on it tonight."
The former first-round Draft pick hardly resembled the Major League rookie who walked 20 and surrendered 22 runs over 22 2/3 innings. The deeper into the game he worked, the more Kennedy resembled MiLB.com's 2007 Minor League Starting Pitcher of Year.
"I wasn't afraid to throw the changeup in any location, in any count," he said. "We moved it in and out, up and down, and played it off of fastball location. I felt like my normal self, whereas earlier this year I was trying to be too fine with the changeup.
"It wasn't so much overthrowing it, but there was a focus on trying to be too perfect with it."
While describing the spin and movement generated by his changeup after the game, Kennedy sounded more and more like the pitcher who went 12-3 with a 1.91 ERA at three Minor League levels in 2007.
"There's no question I want to go back [to the Majors] this year," he said. "Tonight was a big step. I got some confidence back and felt like the pitcher I was last year. There's always more work to be done, and I'm looking forward to doing it."
Kennedy impressed Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who took in the game at PNC Field.
"To mentally regroup, come down here and take care of his business like he knows he can and like he has the ability to do, was also a great sign," Cashman said. "He knows he's got to work through it and we're going to wait for him in New York."
New York manager Joe Girardi expressed his faith in Kennedy, who was 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three big league starts at the end of last season.
"I have a lot of belief in this kid that he has the ability to pitch here," Girardi said. "For whatever reason, it didn't really work out, but this kid is going to be back. I think he's going to have a very successful career."
Heath Phillips yielded one hit in 1 2/3 innings to close out the win and lower his ERA to 2.60.
Gregory Porter ripped an RBI single in the second to stake Kennedy and the Yankees (23-10) to a 1-0 lead. Brett Gardner delivered a run-scoring double and came home on Justin Christian's base hit in the fifth, while Matt Carson chipped in an RBI single in the sixth.
Charlotte's Wes Whisler (5-1) entered with a 1.26 ERA but was roughed up for four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits and a walk with four strikeouts over seven innings.
Paul Phillips had the other hit for the Knights (14-16), a single in the eighth.