NEW YORK -- Ryan Howard can see it from his position at first base.
Kyle Kendrick has become a man.
“He’s got so much poise on the mound in executing his game plan and giving us a chance to win,” Howard said late Friday night, after Kendrick shut out the New York Mets, 4-0, at Citi Field (see Instant Replay).
“He’s always had confidence, but now he has maturity to go with it. He’s taking what he’s learned on to the field and executing. You can definitely see the maturity that has taken place.”
At 28, Kendrick is in his seventh big-league season. He’s had ups and downs and grown from them to the point where this season he isn’t just a man. He’s looking like The Man on the Phillies' pitching staff.
At least so far.
Kendrick got his latest opportunity to be part of the Phillies’ starting rotation after Joe Blanton was traded last summer. Kendrick did so well with that opportunity last season -- he went 7-3 with a 2.43 ERA in his final 10 starts -- that he came to spring training in February with a job locked up. He’s continued to have success in five starts this season. His shutout of the Mets on Friday night left him at 2-1 with a 2.41 ERA in five starts. That’s the best mark among Phillies’ starters.
Over his last 15 starts, Kendrick is 9-4 with a 2.42 ERA.
Friday night’s gem was the best of those 15 starts. Relying mostly on sinkers and changeups and an occasional keep-‘em-honest cutter, Kendrick allowed just three singles, walked one and struck out five to improve to 3-1 with a 1.97 ERA lifetime at Citi Field.
“Absolutely outstanding,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “His last three starts have been really good.”
Kendrick beat the Mets four starts ago, but wasn’t pleased with his economy of pitches. He had a 30-pitch first inning and lasted just six innings. So his strategy in this start was to get ahead in counts and try to get quick outs. It worked. He threw just 107 pitches.
“He was great,” Howard said.
Howard was also pretty good. The Phils’ cleanup man entered the game hitting .284 after a .391 (9 for 23) homestand, but had just two homers in 21 games. The power showed up big in the sixth inning as Howard capped a four-run rally with a long three-run homer to center on a 1-1 changeup from right-hander Dillon Gee. Jimmy Rollins started the inning with a single and Chase Utley pushed him to third with a single. It was the fourth straight game in which the Phils had runners on the corners and no outs and they finally scored a run on a single by Michael Young. Young’s hit gave the Phils a 1-0 lead and resulted in some gallows humor from Manuel after the game.
“We were due to get him in,” Manuel said. “We must have thought we hit the jackpot or something. I wanted to stop and get them to play a song for us.”
“How about ‘Let’s do it again’?” Manuel said, not missing a beat.
Howard followed Young’s hit with his homer to center.
“That shows you he’s still got it,” Manuel said of Howard’s power stroke. “Maybe he needs to hit a few to convince himself. He’s been swinging better. Of course, he hasn’t been hitting the ball out of the yard, but he’s swinging better. He’ll get his stroke back when his power is there.”
The four-run inning was the Phillies’ only offense. They weren’t able to sustain anything, weren’t able to add on, which has been a problem for a year.
Kendrick made the lead stand up.
“Once you get a lead like that in the sixth inning you can smell that W,” he said. “You don’t want to let it slip away. I just wanted to stay aggressive and throw strikes.”