WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago, when Kyle Kendrick finished a bullpen session in San Francisco, Mick Billmeyer stopped the pitcher he had just caught. The bullpen coach had something to say.
"Some guys are just late bloomers," Billmeyer told Kendrick.
Kendrick wants to start. He's 26 and has 95 career major-league starts to his name. For now, he is a swing man — and a valuable one at that — bouncing from the bullpen to rotation when needed.
"Hopefully," Kendrick said, "one of these days, I won't have to go back and forth."
His contributions Friday will be forgotten because of Ryan Madson's implosion in an 8-4 loss to the Nationals. But Kendrick was impressive pitching in six innings on the day before he was supposed to take the ball.
He struck out four in six innings while allowing two runs on 92 pitches.
"Obviously you’d like to go deeper," Kendrick said. "You can always do better, but it was fine."
For the sixth time this season, he reentered the Phillies rotation. Inevitably, he will return to the bullpen. Eventually, he'll probably be back as a starter, perhaps in September if the Phillies adopt a six-man rotation to ease everyone's workload.
Nonetheless, Kendrick has been more than serviceable for the Phillies in 2011. Some of it involves luck. Improvement on his secondary pitches has undoubtedly helped. A comfort level with this new role is important, too.
This season, Kendrick has a 3.24 ERA. His strikeout and walk rates mimic previous seasons. He's allowing fewer hits. His FIP, an advanced metric that attempts to quantify a pitcher's performance independent of his fielders, is 4.41 — the lowest mark of his career in a full season.
As a starter, Kendrick is 4-3 with a 3.44 ERA in 12 games. It just so happens that makes him the sixth best option on this current team.
"Of course he wants to be a starter," Charlie Manuel said. "Why shouldn’t he? But at the same time, I think Kendrick has a chance — especially when you play on winning teams and have a winning record — when it's all said and done, he'll like his career. At the end of his career, if he just has a little more patience, he'll enjoy a big career and I guarantee he'll like where he's at when he's through playing."
It's possible Manuel engaged a similar conversation with Kendrick at one point this season. The righthander is at ease with his current role, as nebulous it may be. He developed a routine while in the bullpen (most of his exercises now come after games he does not pitch). And the development of his cutter and slider, a pitch he just recently began throwing at the suggestion of Roy Halladay, shows hitters different looks beyond the sinker.
"It's all good right now," Kendrick said.
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