As always, Kyle Kendrick went to the mound Wednesday afternoon carrying a baseball in his glove and his future in his hands. If the pressure of needing to pitch well affected him, he didn't let it show. Of course, he's used to that by now.
It has been a long time since Kendrick became an organizational favorite with an unexpected 10-4 season as a rookie in 2007. He fell out of favor the following season, was relegated to the minors the next, and came back to the major leagues last season out of necessity more than a sudden case of faith in him from management.
Had the Phillies not signed Cliff Lee in the winter, Kendrick would have remained in the rotation this season. While you can't say that prospect is what persuaded the team to take the plunge and add the fourth of the horsemen, you also can't say it was a great display of confidence in Kendrick.
"I was happy when I heard it, because I said, 'Man, we're going to be good,' " said Kendrick, who was watching a football game back home in Seattle when news of the signing came across. "I want to start. I'm not going to lie. But I also knew that we'd have five starters whose track records are better than mine. They were going to start, and I was going to be in the bullpen unless something happened."
Something always happens, and it happened this season when Joe Blanton's right elbow blew up in April and, after a brief attempt to pretend otherwise, it stayed blown up. The starts in his absence have been taken by Vance Worley and Kendrick. There is little doubt that popular opinion favors Worley for the role, and the same opinion might be held by the front office, which likes the hard-throwing 23-year-old Worley so much it drafted him twice. Kendrick, well, they've seen him.
Keeping those thoughts at bay aren't easy for a player who has seen both sides of the organization's affection. Kendrick apparently has the demeanor for the job. Before Wednesday's start against the Marlins, he was coming off two bad starts and one that was cut short by a rain delay.
If Kendrick wanted to stay in the rotation until Blanton returns - which, let's face it, could be the 17th of Never - then it was really time for a good one. Worley has been excellent for Lehigh Valley, and he'll probably be brought up for a Saturday start in Seattle as the team plays its sixth game in five days. With a good start by Worley there and more struggles for Kendrick, a change would have been logical.
At least for now, however, Kendrick still appears to have the job.
He went out on Wednesday with all of that riding, gave up a walk and two hits, including a solo home run, in the first inning, and then settled down immediately to compile his best start of the season. Kendrick gave up just five hits in seven innings, struck out five, and went through one stretch in which he gave up only one hit in a 19-batter span.
Using the change-up that came into his repertoire when he was sent down for most of 2009, Kendrick kept the Marlins off balance, often using it with the first pitch to get a quick strike. He had good location on his fastball and cutter and, this time anyway, the game looked easy for Kendrick.
"He needs games like this," manager Charlie Manuel said. "For him to go seven innings today was very good. It was a big plus for us."
Keeping the bullpen fresh during a doubleheader is a fine idea, even if Roy Halladay is pitching the second game. Kendrick came through when needed, but he can only hope that is the impression the organization took away from the game as well.
"I wanted to get as deep in the game as I could. I wasn't thinking about my next start or anything," Kendrick said. "You just try to go out and win the game that day. I feel I'm still getting better and maturing. They've been patient with me. I've had my struggles, but they still put me out there, and I feel I've turned the corner."
That will be determined later, and we'll find out if the organization agrees or still thinks Kendrick is heading straight down the same road: making do with good, not great, stuff, winning as many as he loses, cementing his future as a long reliever.
Optimists will look at Wednesday's game and see what Kyle Kendrick can be. Pessimists will see a pitcher gifted with an early 8-1 lead against a flailing team that had lost 13 out of its previous 14 games.
What Kendrick saw was simple. He saw only a win, because he has learned it is a lot easier to read a box score than to read people's minds.
"Sometimes, the things that happen in this game are out of your control," he said. "I can't control their decision. But if I pitch well, they're going to have a decision."
So far, at least as far as Wednesday's win will take him, Kendrick is still giving the Phillies something to think about.
Contact columnist Bob Ford