Kyle Kendrick thinks exactly like you would expect a starting pitcher to think, like you want a starting pitcher to think. He wants the ball, and he wants it for as long as you will give it to him, and if it was up to him there would be no chance in hell of him leaving this starting rotation with two months to go in the season.
He does not admit to it publicly, because without the proper context, which the media is often hesitant to give, such confessions can be construed as selfish, as egotistical, as immature. But you can feel it is the way he bristles as he answers a question that carries the implication that he is the seventh-best starter on this Phillies roster. Even last night, when his return to the bullpen was more imminent than Final Destination 6, he used the word "if" on several occasions: If I return to the bullpen, if this was my last start, if that's what they decide to do.
On other nights, it may have sounded silly, bordering on delusional. Even before the Phillies completed their quartet of aces with the signing of Cliff Lee, Kendrick's spot in the rotation always made for a lively debate. Every year, it seemed, the Phillies were looking for somebody to supplant him. In 2008, the Phillies acquired Joe Blanton and left Kendrick off the postseason roster. In 2009, they used anybody and everybody they could to keep him in the minors. Jamie Moyer. Pedro Martinez. Lee. Last spring, they sent him to the bullpen, only to quickly bring him back after an injury to Blanton. In July, they sent him to the minors, only to quickly bring him back after an injury to Moyer.
Kendrick was like that dependable ex-girlfriend you just kept bringing back around.
But here's the thing about that ex-girlfriend. As time goes by, she becomes more and more comfortable. You see things in her that you swear did not exist before.
Or, perhaps, she matures. With Kendrick, that certainly seems to be the case. Last night, he turned in the most impressive performance of his career, shutting down a line-up full of a lefties in a lethal ballpark while pitching the Phillies to their 70th win. He threw a career-high 117 pitches, struck out a career-high seven batters. He spotted his sinker on both sides of the plate, unleashing it at the front him of the Rockies' lefties before watching it dart across the inside corner.
Afterward, he stood in front of his locker, the beads of sweat still dripping down his face, a bag of ice still wrapped around his arm.
"They gave him three games worth of pitches in one night!" Jimmy Rollins shouted as he peeked around a corner at Kendrick.
Those pitches will diminish over the next couple of months. Kendrick knows he is headed back to the 'Pen, and he says he is more than fine with that role.
And if last night was his last start, it provided a perfect end to one of the quieter storylines of this 2011 season, which is the growth and maturity Kendrick has shown.
In his last 33 starts, which is essentially a season's worth, Kendrick is 15-13 with a 4.16 ERA in 190 1/3 innings.
That is the reason he talks as if he will one day be in a rotation to stay.
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