Kyle Kendrick knows what he's doing. Throughout the season, he has consistently been passed over when the Phillies needed another arm at the big league level, but he hasn't pouted, hasn't ranted and hasn't taken the "woe is me" approach. Instead, he's gone out and pitched the best he can and has shown that he may, at some point, be able to help the Phillies or another club at the major league level.
Tuesday night was a perfect example. Kendrick threw a complete game, but suffered the loss as the 'Pigs fell to Norfolk 3-1. The only downside of the night for Kendrick were two throwing errors, one which led to the go-ahead runs scoring after he made an ill-advised throw to try to nail a runner at third base. The throw wasn't even close enough for third baseman Terry Tiffee to knock the ball down and keep the runners where they were. Instead, the Tides picked up their second run and the IronPigs were on their way to a loss. After the game, Kendrick didn't dodge any questions about the play and offered no excuses even though it looked like the ball stuck momentarily in his glove. "I just made a bad throw," explained Kendrick.
The loss was especially tough, because Kendrick truly pitched a masterful game. His change-up and slider - which the Phillies always point out are the things that he needs to improve on - were tough for opposing hitters to handle. In the game, Kendrick induced 21 ground ball outs, including four double-play balls hit weakly to third base. While he notched just one strikeout, Kendrick wasn't worried about that and pointed to the fact that he was getting ground ball outs as more significant.
"That's what we're looking for," replied Kendrick when asked about his ability to get ground balls. "I don't worry about strikeouts. As long as hitters are putting the ball on the ground, I'm doing something right."
Besides the impressive amount of ground balls and double-plays, Kendrick pulled off a baseball rarity; a three-pitch inning. After the game, he didn't even realize that he had accomplished the feat. "When was that?" Kendrick asked reporters who asked about the inning. It came in the sixth inning when Brandon Pinckney hit the first pitch from Kendrick up the middle for a single. Joey Gathright then skied the next pitch to left field for the first out of the inning and Justin Christian followed by grounding the third pitch weakly to Tiffee, who started the last of Lehigh Valley's double-plays.
"Really? I never had a three-pitch inning before. That was nice." said Kendrick, who threw a total of 106 pitches.
Kendrick realizes that the key to success for him is to get ahead of hitters. When he can do that, he has the luxury of using his change-up, sinker and slider to his advantage and he has had more success this season at getting ahead of hitters, although Kendrick still believes he should be able to get ahead of hitters more consistently. "Tonight was something that I should be able to do more of," admitted Kendrick.
Kendrick noticed that Norfolk was being aggressive at the plate and used his sinker and change-up to get ahead of hitters, changing the usual approach of leading with a fastball. "I saw that they were going to be aggressive, so as long as I stayed away from the middle of the plate and I could locate my pitches, I knew I'd be able to take advantage of them being so aggressive," said Kendrick, who went on to compliment Lou Marson with helping him to develop the strategy. "Lou called a great game. We were definitely in sync."
Marson believes that Kendrick has continued to progress and deflected the credit back to the 24 year old right-hander. "It's nice of him to credit me, but he was the one making the pitches," said Marson. "He had unbelievable stuff and he's been getting tougher and tougher throughout the season. When he's on, he's as good as anybody on this club."
"He had a better sinker than he's had generally," said 'Pigs manager Dave Huppert of Kendrick's outing on Tuesday. "He keeps making progress for us. His change-up is better and he keeps progressing."
For his part, Kendrick is worrying only about what he does on the mound. He realizes that he's not just pitching to impress the Phillies, but with the trade deadline approaching, he's pitching to impress 29 other clubs who may look at him as a piece to their particular puzzle. "I know they have a plan for me, I just don't know what it is," said Kendrick of having been passed over for major league starts. "I'll just let my pitching do the talking. If I keep throwing well, I'll be somewhere. If it's not in Philly, it'll be somewhere else."
"I think when you're in the minor leagues, especially with the trade deadline coming up, you're always pitching for other teams," said Kendrick.
While Kendrick wasn't even aware that he had a three-pitch inning, he had also lost track of when his last complete game was. When asked about it, Kendrick thought back to a game he pitched for Batavia in 2005, but had forgotten three complete games that he had thrown since then. He threw two for Clearwater in 2006 - one of them a shutout - and another with Reading in 2007. After throwing the complete game for Reading, the Phillies called and brought Kendrick to the majors, so it was sort of ironic that he would again throw a complete game at a time when the Phillies were looking for another starter. "I didn't know that," laughed Kendrick when he was reminded of the outing. When one of the reporters asked if he thought it was a good omen, Kendrick laughed slyly and shrugged.