ARLINGTON, Texas - Howie Kendrick sauntered toward shortstop Wednesday evening as Phillies batting practice began. He stood in a line with Andres Blanco and Ty Kelly and waited his turn to field some grounders hit by bench coach Larry Bowa. It is more than a month since Kendrick last played in a game for the Phillies, and he is still limited to basic moments like these.
The Phillies do not know when Kendrick will return from his right abdominal strain. He has been sidelined since April 16.
"You go two steps forward and you have the slightest thing set you back," Kendrick said. "I mean, I think that's the most frustrating part about it. I want to play. I want to be back out there, but right now I can only work with what I've got."
What he has is a bunch of unknowns. The Phillies had hoped Kendrick could swing a bat sometime this week, but now that is in question. He has, at least, stepped onto a baseball field for the last few days.
The Phillies will face a conundrum when Kendrick does return, even if it is not for a few more weeks. Their return on a $19 million investment in two veteran corner outfielders, Kendrick and Michael Saunders, has not been high. There is time to change that.
But Saunders could lose playing time upon Kendrick's return. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin does not want to remove Aaron Altherr from his lineup; the young outfielder has emerged as his No. 3 hitter. Tommy Joseph has regained his form, which could eliminate another landing spot for Kendrick, at first base.
Saunders' .667 OPS ranked seventh, ahead of only Maikel Franco's, among the Phillies regulars.
"Well, I don't even want to go there yet," Mackanin said. "We got him for a reason and I know he's a better hitter than he's shown up until now."
Saunders hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning Wednesday.
Mackanin, in his most optimistic scenario, envisions Kendrick back in the lineup within a week. That is unlikely.
"He told us he's still sore," Mackanin said. "He doesn't know why. But he was sore. So we backed off on his rotational movement."
Kendrick, 33, flew with the team from Washington to Texas early Monday morning and did not feel right when he stepped off the plane.
"It was just really sore," Kendrick said. "But I'm working through some of that stuff. . . . I'm going to try to push through it and see if getting over that last hurdle will come. Hopefully I'll be back out there soon, but I can't put a date on it for you. I'd love to because I want to play. But it's not like I can make it get better any quicker."
Jeanmar Gomez (right elbow impingement) will throw a bullpen session Thursday, Mackanin said. "He's a little tentative to let it go," Mackanin said. "Tomorrow, he'll see how that feels and we'll know more from there." Gomez has declined to comment on his injury. . . . The Phillies, with a 2-hour, 44-minute game Tuesday, broke a streak of 16 straight games played in three hours or more. Their average time of game entering Wednesday was 3 hours, 14 minutes. That ranked as the ninth-longest average in baseball. . . . Nick Pivetta will start Thursday afternoon for the final time before returning to the minors. He will face Rangers lefty Martin Perez.