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.”

Tonight's lineup: Tommy Joseph's last start of the year?

Tonight's lineup: Tommy Joseph's last start of the year?

Tommy Joseph, who has been missing from the lineup lately, starts at first base and bats fourth tonight.

Joseph will most likely be making his final start of the season with Ryan Howard expected to start the final games of the season. Joseph is batting just .235 against the Braves this season, but does have two home runs. The rookie first baseman has 21 home runs and 15 doubles in 104 games during his first season in the majors. 

Howard will be playing what are almost definitely his final games in a Phillies uniform this weekend vs. the Mets.

Maikel Franco bats fifth and plays third base. Franco, who has been hot lately, has three home runs and is batting .320 over his last 25 at-bats. He will look to continue his success against the Braves, as five of his 25 home runs this season have come against them.

Cameron Rupp gets a day off behind the plate and will be replaced by veteran catcher A.J. Ellis. Ellis has exceeded expectations in a short sample since coming over in the Carlos Ruiz trade last month. Ellis is 8 for 28 with a home run and nine RBIs in 10 games with the Phils. He's batting .285, which is astronomically better than his paltry .194 mark with the Dodgers. 

Part of the reason for Ellis' start could be his history against Braves starter Josh Collmenter. He is 4 for 11 with two home runs and four walks against the former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher.

Here is tonight's lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Maikel Franco, 3B
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. A.J. Ellis, C
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

And for the Braves:

1. Mallex Smith, CF
2. Dansby Swanson, SS
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Matt Kemp, LF
5. Nick Markakis, RF
6. Anthony Recker, C
7. Jace Peterson, 2B
8. Rio Ruiz, 3B
9. Josh Collmenter, P

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

It feels appropriate with the season coming to an end and the recent struggles of the Phillies' entire pitching staff to again point out how consistent Jerad Eickhoff has been in 2016.

Tuesday's rain delay likely cost him a shot at reaching 200 innings — he's sitting on 191⅓ with one start left — but his season has obviously been a success whether or not he reaches that mark. 

Some may argue Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies' MVP this season, but I'd go Eickhoff. Maybe that's just based on the inconsistencies of his rotation mates, but there's real value in a guy who gives you six quality innings each time out. Eickhoff this season was basically John Lackey — a reliable mid-rotation workhorse with solid but unspectacular numbers.

ESPN's longtime prospect analyst Keith Law mentioned Eickhoff this week in an Insider post looking at players he judged incorrectly. Eickhoff and Cubs Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks were the first two pitchers mentioned.

In his assessment of what went wrong with his initial evaluation of Eickhoff, Law wrote:

"I hadn't seen Eickhoff in the minors and, based on what I'd heard about him, had him as a back-end starter, saying he had the repertoire to start but giving him a limited, back-end ceiling. Eickhoff had a good curveball with Texas. But the Phillies' staff has encouraged him to throw it more often, and it's been a difference-making pitch for him. His curve accounted for 40 percent of his swings and misses in 2016, and it's one of the most effective curveballs in MLB right now; that pitch alone has made him more than just a back-end starter, and he has been the Phillies' most valuable starter this year. He is probably a league-average, No. 3 starter going forward with the arsenal he has — average fastball, plus curveball, inconsistent slider that flashes plus but on which he makes too many mistakes — and with 4-WAR potential, given his durability."

Eickhoff's curveball was what made a lot of us take notice late last season. He used it to shut down some good lineups in September, and he finished 2015 with back-to-back seven-inning, 10-strikeout games against the Nationals and Mets.

This season, he grew up. He incorporated the slider more and that led him out of an early-season funk. Early in the year, hitters were laying off his curveball and swinging at any fastball near the zone because it's a hittable pitch. Once he started showing another breaking ball, the game plan for the opposition became more complicated.

There was nothing fluky about Eickhoff's 2016 season. He'll enter the final day of the season 11-14 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. 

It's pretty startling to compare Eickhoff's numbers since joining the Phillies to Cole Hamels' with the Rangers. Have a look.

• Hamels with the Rangers (44 starts): 3.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.8 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

• Eickhoff with the Phillies (40 starts): 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.9 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

It's not an apples to apples comparison because Hamels has pitched about 40 more innings than Eickhoff in a tougher league and in a tougher ballpark. It doesn't mean that going forward they will be equals. It just means that over the last season and a half, their production has been close to equal.

Nobody would have expected a year ago that Eickhoff would be the best piece in that trade. But until Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams graduate to the majors in full-time roles and produce, Eickhoff will be the unexpected centerpiece of that blockbuster deal with the Rangers.

He's a walking example of solid scouting and even better player development by the Phillies.

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