Now that Ian Kennedy knows what to expect on the mound -- as much as any pitcher can, less than a week into his big league career -- he's had a chance to look around. And what he's seen is enough to put butterflies in any pitcher's stomach.

The Yankees are leading the American League Wild Card race -- just barely -- and aren't particularly close to the division crown. So with just over three weeks remaining in the season, their mission has become quite focused. And with the starting rotation in a state of flux, the Yankees have only so many pitchers they can entrust to handle the load.

Kennedy is one of them.

"I didn't expect it any other way," said Kennedy, who has all of seven Major League innings to his credit. "The Yankees are always part of that pennant race, Wild Card race, any type of playoffs. Obviously, it's nice to feel that every game counts, and even though I'm a rookie, I want to win every time I go out there."

So far he's 1-for-1. He'll earn a second chance on Friday night, when the Yankees open a three-game set in Kansas City -- the first of nine games on a road trip that also includes stops in Toronto and Boston.

It's a challenge, especially for Kennedy. But then again, so was his Major League debut, and he passed that test with ease.

"These kids are not shy in any way," said manager Joe Torre. "They don't come in here and you sense that there's any arrogance, other than that conceit that you need to have inside you. The interesting part is that these kids are happy when they win -- like Kennedy the other day -- but he certainly camouflaged his excitement during the course of the game."

The Yankees won't camouflage their excitement if Kennedy succeeds again, they'll just send him out five games later for another go. And another. And another, until he proves he's incapable of reeling in pennant-race wins.

So far he's proven only the opposite.

"He was out here in front of 50,000 people," Torre said of Kennedy's debut, "and I thought he did a heck of a job as far as keeping his feet on the ground."

Kennedy will face a Kansas City team that's out of contention though perfectly able to play the role of spoiler. The Royals are on pace to finish out of the American League Central cellar for the first time since 2003.

Their starter, Gil Meche, has seen his fine season tarnished by a lackluster record. The Royals have lost the last eight games Meche has pitched, but the right-hander has posted a respectable 4.47 ERA over that stretch. In only one month has Meche posted an ERA over 4.50, yet he hasn't had a winning month since April.

Pitching matchup
NYY: RHP Ian Kennedy (1-0, 1.29 ERA)
Kennedy's Major League debut -- seven innings, one run allowed and a win -- was good enough that the Yankees were happy to give him another turn in the rotation. Dating back to his time with Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, Kennedy holds a 1.93 ERA over his last three starts, with 19 strikeouts against four walks.

KC: RHP Gil Meche (7-12, 3.85 ERA)
Meche continued his hot pitching with seven innings of three-run ball in Minnesota, and was again rewarded with a loss -- his sixth straight. The right-hander has yet to find an answer for the Yankees in two starts, losing twice with an 8.74 ERA.

Player to watch
Like most of the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez hasn't been fazed by Meche's career year. A-Rod has a homer off the right-hander this season, and four of them for his career, to go along with a .385 average and nine RBIs.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
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Up next
• Saturday: Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 12-8, 3.82) at Royals (Brian Bannister, 12-7, 3.16), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Yankees (Chien-Ming Wang, 17-6, 3.68) at Royals (Zack Greinke, 6-5, 3.87), 2:10 p.m. ET
• Monday: Off-day