CLEARWATER, Fla. - The official diagnosis was rotator-cuff tendinitis with slight fraying. That might sound a bit ominous, especially if you combine it with a glance at the three walks and three runs Kyle Kendrick allowed yesterday in his first competitive action since a sore shoulder ended his 2013 season midway through September.
But all is well, the 29-year-old righthander said after he pitched two innings against the Tigers in his Grapefruit League debut, and that must continue to be the case for the Phillies to avoid an early-season emergency situation in their rotation.
By now, you might have heard that the Phillies have some depth issues at starting pitching. Jonathan Pettibone and Cole Hamels are both unlikely to be ready for the start of the season. The Phillies are optimistic that Hamels (biceps tendinitis) will miss only two starts, but Pettibone has battled shoulder soreness since last season and has yet to face hitters this spring. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is slated to pitch a couple of innings against the Yankees today, but nobody seems to know what to expect, or even hope for, out of the Cuban righthander. If the Phillies were to suffer another injury, their best option to join the rotation might be David Buchanan, who has spent most of the last two seasons at Double A Reading and who wasn't even invited to major league spring training until mid-January.
So, Kendrick . . .
In some respects, the 7-year veteran has been a victim of the pitchers surrounding him. He does not have overpowering, swing-and-miss stuff, which means he is often at the mercy of the fickle fortune of the batted ball, which makes him different from guys such as Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Hamels. But one need only look at the free-agent market to see that a pitcher like Kendrick is a valuable commodity. His ERA and his peripherals (strikeout rate, walk rate, home run rate, etc.) are near matches with Kyle Lohse, who signed a 3-year, $33 million contract with the Brewers last offseason, and Jeremy Guthrie, who signed a 3-year, $25.2 million deal with the Royals last year.
It just so happens that Kendrick will be a free agent after this season. He'll earn $7.675 million in 2014, putting him at about $11.3 million in career earnings. A strong season could enable him to triple that number, in addition to helping the Phillies stabilize their rotation after the Lee-Hamels-A.J. Burnett triumvirate.
"I take every year as a big year, but this is a big year for our team and me personally," Kendrick said. "The main thing is health, that's a big key. If I can stay healthy, make my starts and pitch my innings while giving us a chance to win - I know I say it every time and it's a cliche, but it's the truth. If you stay on the field, that's big. That can help yourself. Those are what my goals are this year. I plan on doing that."
Perhaps the biggest question Kendrick needs to answer involves his shoulder. Maybe not the structural integrity of it: Doctors told him last year that his MRI revealed a shoulder less worn out than a typical pitcher his age. But Lohse and Guthrie had multiple 200-inning seasons to their credits. Kendrick hit a career-high 182 innings in the 30 starts he made before the Phillies shut him down last season. In 2010, he logged 180 2/3 innings in 31 starts and two relief appearances.
Near the end of last June, Kendrick's value might have been at an all-time high. In his first 16 starts, he logged 106 2/3 innings with a 3.46 ERA, 68 strikeouts and 26 walks. That's when his season jumped off the rails. The Phillies went only 5-9 in his final 14 starts, with Kendrick posting a 6.45 ERA while allowing batters to his .334/.380/.479 off him. At some point during that stretch, the shoulder began to hurt.
"I'm not going to make excuses about that," Kendrick said. "Obviously, I didn't feel good. I think I was just worn down a little bit, a little tired. I think I figured that out this winter, my routine, the arm stuff I'm going to do to keep that from happening. Obviously, I'm going to get tired, but hopefully the program I have now is going to allow me to not let that happen again. So I plan on having a good, strong season."
Kendrick says all of the injury trouble is in the past.
"I feel great," he said. "Last year, once we figured out what was going on, we got on it. I felt good all winter. I feel good right now. The main thing right now is health."
For him, and for the Phillies.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy