Kendrick's 2nd-half slide continues in Phils' loss

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Kendrick's 2nd-half slide continues in Phils' loss

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON -- Throwing to contact for a pitcher can be a double-edged sword. On one side, a pitcher can avoid big innings with groundballs and double plays. By working quickly, he can keep the defense on its toes and dictate the rhythm of the game.

But on the other side, a ball put in play can be a dangerous thing.

For Kyle Kendrick and the Phillies on Friday night at Nationals Park, all of those balls put into play came back to bite them as the Nats rolled to a 6-1 victory (see Instant Replay).

It was the Nationals’ seventh straight win, which could move them to 4½ games of the Reds for the second wild-card spot. Meanwhile, the Phillies inched ever closer to that losing season. At 68-79, the Phillies can afford two more defeats in order to avoid their first losing season since 2002.

Kendrick, whose outing on Friday night exemplified his second half, will start at least three more of those remaining games.

Kendrick was charged with six runs on eight hits and a pair of walks in 4 1/3. He also allowed two solo homers to Wilson Ramos and the white-hot Ryan Zimmerman. Moreover, there wasn’t an inning in the five Kendrick started in which he did not allow at least one hit. After Ian Desmond bounced one off the plate to knock in a run and load the bases, manager Ryne Sandberg gave him the hook.

“I just didn’t do my job tonight,” Kendrick said. “I didn’t give us a chance to win and didn’t pitch deep into the game. The whole thing has been a rough second half.”

But has it been simply bad luck for the veteran righty? At 10-13, Kendrick has posted a 6.91 ERA since the All-Star Game and leads the National League in hits allowed. In his last nine starts covering all of August and September, Kendrick is 1-6 with a 6.90 ERA and has allowed 64 hits in 45 2/3 innings.

What happened to the guy who was 8-6 with a 3.68 ERA before the break?

According to Sandberg, Kendrick has lost his sinker. For a contact pitcher with no sinker, that means big trouble.

“The second half of the season, he hasn't had that two-seam fastball that has really good sinking action. It results in groundball outs or double-play opportunities,” Sandberg said. “It seems to be a little bit of a flatter pitch right now. Tonight, on the flip side, it seemed like they were on top of his pitches and he wasn't catching a break. They weren't hit hard enough.”

Kendrick would like to argue with that assessment, but he can’t. The two pitches that he threw to give up the homers were grooved over the plate. Sure, those choppers off the plate may have been bad luck, but sometimes a pitcher makes his own luck, too.

“I gave up a couple of homers and they were pitches up,” Kendrick said. “But other than that I gave up some groundballs in the hole. The walks aren’t good -- I walked a couple of guys and they ended up scoring. I have to keep going out there and making pitches. One pitch at a time.”

Then again, it wasn’t like the Phillies gave Kendrick much support. Facing Ross Ohlendorf, who was an emergency starter for righty Stephen Strasburg, the Phillies had a run and two on base with one out in the first.

After that, they didn’t cross the plate again.

The Phillies had runners on third and one out in the first, fourth and fifth innings. They also got the leadoff man on base in the sixth. Even that wasn’t enough to jumpstart the offense.

“Through five innings, we had men on third base with less than two outs and didn't get anybody in,” Sandberg said. “They got some guys on base and balls that didn't leave the infield were getting runs in. That was the big difference. It added up.”

With three more scheduled starts, Kendrick is pitching for a job next season. He gets high marks for making all 30 of his starts with a career-high 182 innings pitched and two complete games. Still, there is much to salvage for Kendrick in the remaining starts.

“At this point you want to throw better,” Kendrick said. “That’s the way it’s been in the second half, so I’ll just keep going out there.”

The series continues on Saturday night with a pair of lefties squaring off. Cole Hamels (7-13, 3.45) faces Gio Gonzalez (10-6, 3.31) in a battle of former Phillies’ prospects. Hamels is 1-1 with a 2.11 ERA in three starts against the Nats this season and 14-6 with a 2.52 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 178 2/3 innings against Washington in 27 career starts.

Gonzalez is 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA in seven career starts against the Phillies.

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with eight homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253/24/57/.815.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

A few Phillies thoughts between NFL playoff games:
 
Jerad Eickhoff was in town the other day putting smiles on the faces of some special kids at CSN Philly’s annual Shining Star Awards dinner, which benefits the March of Dimes.
 
Before the event, Eickhoff was a guest on Philly Sports Talk and he was asked about the possibility of being the Phillies' opening day starter April 3 in Cincinnati. The right-hander said all the right things, noting that there were several worthy candidates and that the decision ultimately would be made by manager Pete Mackanin, and he was right on all counts.
 
In the big picture, it doesn’t matter a whole lot who gets the ball on opening day. The goal of every starter is to stay healthy for a full season and if he does that he’ll end up with 33 starts and ample opportunity to pitch himself to the top of the rotation.
 
Still, starting on opening day is a big honor, even if a lot of folks won’t remember who got the ball for the opener much beyond Memorial Day.
 
The 2017 Phillies have two legitimate candidates for opening day starter: Jeremy Hellickson and Eickhoff. 

Hellickson got the nod last year and did nothing to suggest he does not deserve the honor again this year. The veteran right-hander pitched 189 innings over 32 starts and was a pro’s pro from the moment he stepped foot in the clubhouse.
 
But with all due respect to Hellickson, this early vote for the opening day assignment goes to Eickhoff for a number of reasons.
 
First of all, he’s earned it with his performance. He led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) in 2017. He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure constantly stress to the staff the importance of throwing strikes. Eickhoff responded in 2016. His ratio of 1.92 walks per nine innings was the fourth-best mark among National League starters in 2016.

In addition, he's earned it with his conduct and example. The guy approaches his craft with a maturity, dedication, work ethic and seriousness that is reminiscent of Roy Halladay.

All of this leads us to another reason that Eickhoff should get the opening day nod: The Phillies are a building team and Eickhoff, 26 years old and under team control for five more seasons, is going to be around for a while. Hellickson will likely depart for free agency after this season. Ditto Clay Buchholz. Awarding Eickhoff the opening day start would be a show of faith in the pitcher, a message that management believes he can be a rock and a leader in the rotation now and in the future. 
 
And as for the notion that holding Eickhoff back until the second or third game of the season would help keep him away from opposing teams’ top pitchers and get him better matchups and possibly more run support. Well, Eickhoff already knows what it’s like to face top rivals and keep his team in the game. Last year, he matched up against Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and twice against both Kyle Hendricks and Zack Greinke. Late in the season, he faced NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer twice and lefty stud Chris Sale once. He pitched 19 innings in those three starts and allowed six runs. Pretty solid.
 
It’s certainly not the most important decision that Mackanin & Co. will face between now and April, but when it comes to opening day starter, well, we like Eick.
 
• Spring training is less than a month away, but the Phillies’ offseason roster construction remains in progress. You can pretty much bank on the club adding a bat, likely a left-handed-hitting outfielder, in the coming days.
 
Brandon Moss and Michael Saunders, both free-agent outfielders, remain the most likely targets, with Moss probably the best fit because of his ability to help out at first base.
 
The Phillies have had longstanding interest in Jay Bruce, who is on the Mets’ trading block, but sources say the price for him is two prospects. The rebuilding Phillies are committed to hanging on to their prospects. Moss or Saunders would cost just money, making them better fits on a short-term deal.

• The Phillies will officially open their new developmental academy in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. The club has leased four different facilities since ramping up efforts in the DR in 1994. The new facility, built on 45 acres in Boca Chica, is co-owned by the Phillies and Minnesota Twins. The two teams have separate baseball facilities and dormitories for up to 78 players. The clubs share kitchen, dining and field maintenance costs.
 
Read more about the new facility here.
  
• Agreeing at the midpoint and avoiding a hearing is always the goal when a player and his team exchange salary figures during the arbitration process. Cesar Hernandez submitted a figure of $2.8 million and the Phillies came in at $2 million. Shake hands at $2.4 million and move on.
 
• We mentioned this recently, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so remarkable. At home in 2016, the Phillies recorded a team batting average of .230 and a team on-base percentage of .291. Those marks were the club’s worst in more than a century of official record keeping.
 
• Phillies prospect Carlos Tocci is a strong candidate for the rookie of the year award in the Venezuelan winter league. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .323 with a .403 on-base percentage in 59 games for the Aragua ballclub.
 
Odubel Herrera was rookie of the year and batting champion in the Venezuelan league two years ago.
 
• And finally, Phillies chairman David Montgomery was among the honorees at the 14th annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation In the Spirit of the Game awards dinner Saturday night in Beverly Hills, California.
 
Montgomery received the Allan H. “Bud” Selig Executive Leadership Award. Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Bo Jackson, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and a host of legendary scouts were among the other honorees at the event.
 
It was nice to see an organization dedicated to scouting recognize Montgomery, who served as Phillies president from 1997 to 2014. As leader of the Phillies, Montgomery always realized the importance of scouts in building a successful organization, and in his typical style built personal relationships with every member of his club’s scouting staff, right down to the area guys who drive around baseball’s backstreets in search of young talent. Winning the 2008 World Series was the highlight of Montgomery’s time as club president and that team was built on the back of good scouting.
 
So congratulations to one of the classiest and most respected men in the game on a most fitting honor.