Don't laugh: Stopper Kendrick leads Phillies past Marlins

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Don't laugh: Stopper Kendrick leads Phillies past Marlins

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Kyle Kendrick might be on the best roll of his major-league career, but he hasn’t lost his humility.

So when someone used the word “stopper” to describe him after he picked up his third win in six starts in a 7-2 victory over the Miami Marlins on Thursday night, Kendrick nearly laughed out loud (see Instant Replay).

It was almost as if he wanted to say: Those guys ahead of me in the rotation -- you know, Messrs. Hamels, Halladay and Lee -- they’re stoppers. I’m just little, ol’ sinkerballer Kyle Kendrick.

Well, look what little, ol’ sinkerballer Kyle Kendrick is doing these days. He’s 3-1 with a 2.43 ERA after a half-dozen starts. By comparison, Hamels is 1-3 with a 4.78 ERA, Halladay is 2-3 with a 6.75 ERA and Lee is 2-2 with a 3.46 ERA.

As a team, the Phillies are 4-2 in Kendrick’s starts. By comparison, they are 2-4 in Halladay’s starts, 2-4 in Lee’s starts and 1-5 in Hamels’ starts.

A month into the season, Kendrick has been this club’s best starter. And after his last two starts, well, maybe that stopper label isn’t something to snicker at. After all, Thursday night’s seven-inning, two-run performance came after the Phils were tuned-up in a pair of losses at Cleveland. Kendrick’s previous win, a shutout against the Mets in New York, came after the Phils had lost three straight to Pittsburgh.

“I don’t look at myself as a stopper,” Kendrick said. “I’m just trying to pitch a quality game and give us a chance to win.”

Kendrick’s performance Thursday night didn’t have the shine of his outing in New York, but it was impressive because he battled his way through early command problems and never lost his cool in pitching out of trouble several times. Several years ago, Kendrick might have tightened up in close situations and slowed the game down. By in this one, he kept his pace and rhythm. He got two big strikeouts in the third inning, one with two men on, the other with the bases loaded.

Kendrick spent the last few seasons as a swingman, filling rotation spots when needed then being shipped to the bullpen. He wanted the chance to start full-time and got it when Joe Blanton was traded last August. In his last 16 starts dating to mid-August, Kendrick is 10-4 with 2.43 ERA. After years of ups and downs, the 28-year-old right-hander is becoming a dependable major-league pitcher.

“I’ve always kind of expected this out of me,” Kendrick said. “I know it hasn’t been there in the past like I’ve wanted, the fans have wanted, my teammates, the coaches, the organization, but I expect this out of me. Hopefully, now I can be consistent like that and give us a chance to win the game. That’s the main thing as a starting pitcher. I’m feeling comfortable and confident I can do that every time out.”

That’s a pretty good quote. It shows great awareness on Kendrick’s part and also the maturity that is becoming evident in his pitching.

Erik Kratz has been behind the plate for Kendrick’s last three outings. Kendrick has allowed just four runs in 22 innings over the span. Clearly, the two are connecting.

“He has the ability to throw all his pitches for strikes,” Kratz said. “And he’s being aggressive with them. He’s not afraid of contact. Kyle has built on that second half he had last year. He’s very confident. It’s rewarding having a game plan and seeing him execute it.”

Kratz had an important contribution beyond his work behind the plate. The Phils were up, 2-1, in the fifth inning (on the strength of solo home runs by Domonic Brown and Ryan Howard) when Kratz worked an 11-pitch walk to open the bottom of the fifth. He moved up on a bunt by Kendrick, went to third on an error and scored on a sacrifice fly by Chase Utley. The two-runinning gave Kendrick some breathing room before the Phils pulled away at the end.

“It ended up being a good at-bat for the team,” Kratz said. “Then Kyle got the bunt down. That’s what we talk about every day, ‘Keep the line moving. Keep the momentum going.’”

The Phils are three games under .500 and struggling to put together consistency. It’s difficult to call that momentum. But as new rightfielder Delmon Young said after the game, “We’re struggling and we’re still only 4½ games back. No one has taken off yet. Last year, I was with (World Series team) Detroit and we were picked to win and we were under .500 for awhile before getting hot at the right time. This is a six-month season. You just need to stay within striking distance, be no more than five games out at the all-star break and you can make your move because you play the division teams so much in the second half.”

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

NEW YORK — The clubhouse mood following the Phillies17-0 loss to the Mets Sunday was somber, in part because of the disastrous game that had just wrapped up, but also because of the tragic news of Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

“It was rough. People are devastated. I didn’t even know him and I was crushed,” Phillies starter Jake Thompson said. “I can only imagine how that clubhouse feels. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, to deal with something of that magnitude.”

Both teams paused for a moment of silence before Sunday’s game and the Mets taped a jersey bearing Fernandez’s name and number onto their dugout wall.

“This morning, that was quite a surprise,” manager Pete Mackanin said of the atmosphere of the day. “I don’t think it affected the players once the game started. It was such bad news this morning that everybody was kind of melancholy.”

Fernandez had built a strong track record against the Phillies in his young career, amassing a 2.88 ERA in six starts.

“It’s kind of cliché to say but you look at the start of his career and he could have been a Hall of Famer,” Thompson said.

Asked how he would remember facing Fernandez, Mackanin was succinct.

“He was a helluva pitcher,” he said.

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Phillies suffer worst shutout loss in modern era to Mets

Phillies suffer worst shutout loss in modern era to Mets

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NEW YORK -- Jake Thompson faced the issues that a 22-year old starter in his 10th career appearance usually does Sunday against the Mets.
 
Thompson struggled with his command at times, walking the bases loaded in the fourth inning before escaping his self-induced jam with a flyout. He hit a batter and surrendered a home run to Curtis Granderson on a pitch that caught too much of the plate.
 
The righty departed after four innings in what manager Pete Mackanin declared postgame to be Thompson’s last start of the season.
 
But perhaps neither he nor the rest of the Phillies expected the extent to which his struggles would ripple through the bullpen. The Phillies’ relievers surrendered 14 runs, hit three batters and gave up a grand slam in a 17-0 loss, the franchise's worst shutout defeat in the modern era (see Instant Replay).
 
“Obviously the bullpen has scuffled for a while now,” Mackanin said. “That shows you how much the game is about pitching. It keeps you in games, gives you an opportunity to win like it did the first couple of months of the season for us. Now, the last month, it’s not keeping us in games or it’s losing games.”
 
The Phillies’ relievers were charged with 28 runs over the course of their four-game swing in New York. Their collective 4.69 ERA is the fourth-worst in the National League.
 
Sunday, Phil Klein — who hadn’t pitched since he was recalled from Lehigh Valley on Sept. 10 — and little-used Colton Murray and Patrick Schuster — who had combined for three appearances in the past two weeks — took the brunt of the damage.
 
Klein walked two batters, surrendered two singles and hit Mets catcher Rene Rivera in the left hand to force in a run. He left the bases loaded for Murray, who allowed an inherited runner to score on a wild pitch. Murray was pulled in the seventh having gotten into a bases-loaded jam of his own. His replacement, Frank Herrmann, allowed all three runs to score on a walk and a grand slam by Asdrubal Cabrera.
 
Schuster was assigned five runs in the eighth after he was tagged for three hits, walked a batter and hit Gavin Cecchini.
 
Which pitchers — if any — out of the Phillies’ cadre of middle relivers will return next year is an open question and Mackanin made it clear that he will use the remaining six games in the season to evaluate his team’s arms.
 
“It’s another audition.” Mackanin said. “We want to see who might fit in.”
 
Thompson can clearly stake a claim to his role in the Phillies’ rebuilding effort. Despite the hiccup in his final outing, he has come a long way in just two months from being the pitcher that surrendered six runs to the light-hitting Padres in his Aug. 6 debut.

His changeup — a pitch that hitters had connected on for six home runs this year, according to data from Fangraphs — was particularly lively Sunday. Cabrera chased it out of the zone in the first inning for Thompson’s only strikeout.
 
“I think the changeup’s probably been my best pitch up here,” Thompson said. “I’ve given up a lot of homers on it, too. That just shows whenever you don’t execute it, it’s a tough pitch to throw in the zone. As far as the swing-and-misses that I was getting with it, it’s kind of night and day.
 
“At this point last year I pretty much had no changeup, so that’s a big thing for me.”
 
Only 23 on Opening Day next year, Thompson has plenty of room to improve.
 
The Phillies’ bullpen does, too.

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