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.