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So Long Kendrick... and We Thank You

March 23, 2009
by Christine Cartafalsa

Another Phillies pitcher has hit the road. Kyle Kendrick, who at one point was tagged as pitching coach Rich Dubee’s favorite for the coveted fifth starter position, struggled throughout most of Spring Training this year. Despite a stronger performance during his most recent appearance against the Yankees, the Phillies have decided to option the 24 year-old righty to minor league camp.

The move to the minors has been a long time coming. 2008 was a year speckled with pitching woes for the Phillies. Brett Myers embarked on a path that gave him two to three home runs per first inning pitched. After a three week vocation in the minors, he returned in killer form. Also sent on the bus back down was black sheep Adam Eaton, although he remained hidden in the shadows in both the minors and majors for the rest of his Phillies career. As Philadelphia remained focused on Myers and Eaton, Kendrick’s own imperfections were noticed, but not taken too seriously. Despite his troubles, Kendrick still managed 11 wins thanks to strong run support average and this most likely carried him as far as September and, without a doubt, was a major contributor to the Phillies second trip to the post season in two years.

Kendrick, a 7th round draft pick for the Phillies in 2003, made his major league debut with the team in 2007 after beleaguered starter Freddy Garcia went on the DL on June 13th and immediately went on to shine. His 10-4 record not only led all NL rookies, but established him as the first Phillies rookie pitcher to do so since Pat Combs in 1990. Kendrick went on to play in the National League Division series for the Phillies as their number two starter, although not as strong, pitching 3.2 innings giving up five runs on five hits.

Kendrick finished 2007 with a 3.87 ERA and came in fifth place for the NL 2007 Sporting News Rookie of the Year.

2008 did not favor Kendrick in the same manner.

He began the season as the 4th starter and, although the tumble downhill was suspended, found that he couldn’t break his fall once initiated, eventually being bumped from the number four to the number five spot. He continued to battle until September when rosters expanded and sealed his fate on September 9th when he was lit up by the Marlins for six hits and seven earned runs in 1.1 innings. J.A. Happ reported to the Phillies for a third time and, with the NL East Division title tug-of-war against the Mets in full swing with a month to go, keeping Kendrick as a starter didn’t seem to make sense considering Happ’s scattered but outstanding performances at the big league level in 2008 and Kendrick would be demoted to the bullpen. Afterwards, he made came out of the bullpen on one occasion as mop-up man against the Marlins and wasn’t able to make it out of the single inning he was called for without surrendering a home run. He would also start against the Nationals for the final game of the regular season following the Phillies clinch of the division. Kendrick would not make the post season roster this time around and was sent down to the Florida Instructional League, rejoining his team for the World Series. However, he would be no more than a fan with the slight advantage of enjoying the win from the dugout.

A beneficial move would have been for him to become the next starting pitcher to hop the train to single- or double-A ball earlier in the season where he could have rediscovered what he was truly capable of and been of some use in the post season. Instead, Kendrick would become the second former starter to endure the position of long reliever – a position that provides very inconsistent, yet all-too-demanding work and not the place to work out his salvation as a major league pitcher.

It was his 21 wins for the Phillies that kept him as the sparkle in Dubee’s eye when camp first commenced, but the number seemed smaller and smaller this spring as Kendrick racked up a hefty 9.20 ERA and displayed even less control over his emotions during a March 5th loss to Team USA. As the race for the fifth starter position wages on, mostly between Happ and Chan Ho Park, Kendrick along with the rest of the Phillies knew that his own possibilities of redeeming himself worthy were minimal.

The minor league was the only thing that made sense this late into camp.

This is how it goes in baseball. Kendrick certainly isn’t the first Phillies prospect to come up and make the unexpected impact that he did in 2007, only to disappear into the Pennsylvania suburban ball fields of the farm leagues. Have the fans all but forgotten about J.D. Durbin and his complete game in 2007? Faces come and go in this game like a favorite hair stylist that abandons post without warning. Most don’t wonder when Durbin will be back – if he ever takes the mound again as a member of the Phillies roster even – but people will be keeping an eye on Kendrick and awaiting his inevitable return to the majors. Perhaps he was brought up too quickly this first time, achieving fame and popularity on pure adrenaline and lost it just as fast when the honeymoon of a debut ended.

The next time should be better.