Kendrick's arm, Howard's power lead Phillies over Mets

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Kendrick's arm, Howard's power lead Phillies over Mets

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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.”

What song?

“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.”

Phillies likely to carry rookie backup catcher in 2017

Phillies likely to carry rookie backup catcher in 2017

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The likelihood of the Phillies going with a rookie backup catcher in 2017 increased dramatically when the Miami Marlins signed free agent A.J. Ellis on Wednesday.

Ellis spent the final month of the 2016 season with the Phillies after coming over from the Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade. Ellis, 35, got high marks for his work with the Phillies’ young pitching staff and the Phils had some interest in bringing him back. The interest, however, was complicated by a tight 40-man roster, which already includes three catchers — starter Cameron Rupp and minor-league prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp.

With Ellis out of the picture, the Phillies will likely use either Alfaro or Knapp as the backup catcher in 2017. Knapp spent a full year at Triple A in 2016 and could end up being the guy as Alfaro moves to Triple A for another year of seasoning.

General manager Matt Klentak spoke earlier this week of the possibility of going with a rookie at backup catcher.

“Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A,” Klentak said. “He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

It’s not all that surprising that Ellis ended up with the Marlins on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. He played for Marlins manager Don Mattingly during the latter’s time as manager of the Dodgers.

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.