ATLANTA -- Baseball is a game of adjustments, they say, and after getting tattooed all season long in the first inning, Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick made an adjustment to his pre-game warmup routine Tuesday night.
Instead climbing the bullpen mound about 20 minutes before game time, Kendrick started throwing a little earlier, took a 10-minute break then threw some more off the mound.
Kendrick got through the first inning without allowing a run -- in fact, he struck out the first two batters on six pitches -- as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves for the second straight night, 5-2, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).
Entering the game, Kendrick had allowed 13 earned runs in the first inning of his 13 starts. That's a 9.00 ERA.
“I put up a zero in the first inning, that’s the main thing,” he said.
It was imperative that Kendrick put up a zero in the bottom of the first because he was staked to a 2-0 lead in the top of the inning as Jimmy Rollins doubled to lead off the game and Ryan Howard homered on a full-count pitch from Ervin Santana with two outs.
Throwing back an early lead like that would have been demoralizing to the whole team. Putting up the zero was a positive tone-setter for the night.
“We got those two runs, it was big,” Kendrick said. “I knew I had to put up a zero.”
Kendrick went seven innings and allowed just two runs for the night. He struck out six and walked just one. He is 8-2 with a 3.23 ERA in 22 career games (16 starts) against Atlanta.
He loves pitching in Atlanta, especially on muggy nights. The warm night might have helped cure his first-inning woes as much as his new warmup exercise.
“It could have been the weather, too, because I always enjoy pitching here,” he said. “I was pretty loose early.”
Manager Ryne Sandberg called the outing Kendrick’s best of the season “as far as command and quality of pitches.”
Kendrick did an excellent job keeping the ball down. That’s the key for any pitcher, but especially for someone who does not have overpowering stuff. He rolled a huge ground ball for a double play to short-circuit a Braves’ threat in the seventh.
A lot of things clicked for the Phillies in this game. That starting pitching was there. The big middle-of-the-order bat was there in Howard. And so was the bullpen. One night after needing 28 pitches to blow a save and get through the ninth inning, Jonathan Papelbon needed just seven pitches to close out the game. Jake Diekman pitched a scoreless eighth.
Over the first 36 games of the season, the Phillies’ bullpen had an ERA of 4.95, worst in the NL.
In the last 33 games, the bullpen has an ERA of 2.53, which ranks third-best in the NL.
The bullpen’s work has helped the Phillies win six of their last eight games. Management has one eye on breaking up the team and the other on the standings just to see if it wants to keep things together a little longer. Though the Phils are seven games under .500, they are just five games out of first place in the NL East. With Tuesday night’s win, the Phillies knocked the Braves out of first place in the division.
The Phils are two games into a stretch of 18 games that includes 14 against NL East opponents ahead of them in the standings. Teams can make up ground in a hurry, or get buried, in stretches like this. So far, the Phils are 2-0.
“We know where we’re at,” Kendrick said. “Shoot, we’re still in it. Obviously we’re seven under .500. We have to take it one day at a time. Hopefully we can come in tomorrow, sweep these guys and go on to St. Louis.”
Howard’s homer was his second in as many nights and 13th of the season. He hit a full-count fastball from Santana over the left-field wall. The fastball was away and Howard went with it nicely.
“It makes a big difference when Howard swings the bat like that,” Sandberg said. “It tends to bring out the best in everybody.
“It was especially big because they were early runs and that went a long way for Kendrick.
"We've played two good ballgames here."