Given Kyle Kendrick's performance through two starts, you might have already decided that his solid showing in spring training was little more than a mirage. But the improvements that Kendrick displayed in spring training are very real -- he threw his off-speed pitches for strikes, avoided solid contact, etc. -- they just aren't the final step. The final step is to use those improvements to retire major league hitters who are in regular season form.
He'll get his third chance to do so tonight against a Braves line-up that features two powerful left-handed sluggers in Brian McCann and Jason Heyward. In 19 plate appearances against lefties this season, Kendrick has allowed nine hits -- four of them for extra bases -- and two walks. that's a batting average of .563 and slugging percentage of 1.000.
Kendrick's struggles against lefties are one of the big reasons the Phillies dropped him from their rotation late in 2008 and sent him down to the minors in 2009. The team wanted him to develop his change-up and cutter/slider, which they viewed as necesarry tools for keeping lefties off his sinker.
But I wouldn't be surprised to see Kendrick get back to basics tonight and rely more on his sinker, which was the No. 1 reason the Phillies called him up from Double-A in 2007.
Back then, close to 70 percent of the pitches Kendrick threw were sinkers. This year, less than half of his pitches -- 48 percent, to be exact -- have been sinkers.
Granted, the sample size is limited to 107 pitches, thanks to his two short outings against the Nationals.
But don't be surprised if Kendrick decides that his problem against Washington in his first start wasn't that he threw sinkers early, it was where he threw them. The Nationals, who stacked their line-up with left-handed hitters against him, went into the game with the obvious intention of attacking his sinker early in the count. According to manager Charlie Manuel, Kendrick played into their hands by leaving the fastball up.
Understandably, Kendrick went after the Nationals differently in his second start. Only three of his first nine pitches were sinkers, but the strategy didn't work out any better. Of the six offspeed pitches he threw, five were called balls. During that stretch, three batters reached base -- one on a hit by pitch, one on a walk, and one on a run-scoring single.
When the Phillies sent Kendrick down to the minors, they didn't expect him to transform into a different pitcher. They still envisioned him as a sinker-baller, but with complementary off-speed pitches.
In 2009, more than 100 major league starters threw more than 130 innings. Of that group, only 16 threw their fastball fewer than 50 percent of the time. All of those pitchers relied heavily on either a change-up or a curve ball or, in Braden Looper's case, a splitter.
Kendrick doesn't have an "out" pitch like a wicked change-up or curveball. I wouldn't be surprised if tonight he decides that his biggest weapon is still his sinker, and that if he is going to head back to the bullpen or the minors, it will be while relying on the pitch that got him to the majors in the first place.
Some rehab updates:
Brad Lidge will make his first rehab appearance above Class A Thursday night for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Meanwhile, lefty J.C. Romero will pitch again tonight, his first back-to-back outing of the spring and a sign that he could be activated from the disabled list in the near future.
Righthander Joe Blanton will make his first rehab start tonight for Class A Lakewood.
Lefty J.A. Happ threw off flat ground today at about 90 feet. He has a bullpen session scheduled for Thursday as he tries to shake what the team has described as a mild strain of his flexor pronator muscle.