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.”

Pete Mackanin says Odubel Herrera will stay in CF this season — but beyond?

Pete Mackanin says Odubel Herrera will stay in CF this season — but beyond?

A couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said there was a chance he could look at Odubel Herrera in a corner outfield spot over the final weeks of the season.

Scrub that idea.

“Not this year,” Mackanin said Monday. “If we decide we're going to do that, we'll encourage him to play a corner in winter ball and then in spring training, if that's what we decide to do.

“I thought about doing that. But I don't know if we want to do that now. We’ll just let him get back on track offensively. I won't say it won't happen here or there. But we're not going to make that move right now.

“Let's try to keep his mind as uncluttered as possible right now. It looks a little cluttered.”

The Phillies have thought about moving Herrera to a corner spot because they have a top center field prospect in Roman Quinn. Also, Aaron Altherr is an excellent defender in center.

Quinn seemed to be on target for a call up after the Eastern League playoffs, but that could be in doubt now that he’s on the disabled list with a concussion.

Still, Quinn may be this club’s centerfielder of the future. And behind him is Mickey Moniak, this year’s top draft pick. He’s a ways away. But it’s worth wondering if the Phillies believe Herrera’s future is at a corner outfield spot. Or whether Herrera will be wintertime trade bait.

Mackanin was asked if he believed Herrera’s future would be in a corner spot.

“You know, I'd rather not really even comment on that,” he said. “I don't want him to think that we're not pleased with him. I just want to keep him confident the rest of the season.”

Herrera’s defense in center field has slipped this season.

“He was better last year defensively,” Mackanin said. “He's made a lot of mistakes this year. I think we've all seen that. But that doesn't mean he's not going to play center field anymore. There's another month left to see what happens.”

Herrera was the Phillies’ lone representative in the All-Star Game. He hit .294 with a .378 on-base percentage and a .427 slugging percentage before the All-Star break. Since then, however, he was hitting .252 with a .314 on-base percentage and a .378 slugging percentage entering play Monday night.

Tonight's lineup: Has the Ryan Howard showcase come to an end?

Tonight's lineup: Has the Ryan Howard showcase come to an end?

Showcase time for Ryan Howard has apparently come to an end.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin will go with Tommy Joseph rather than Howard at first base for Monday's series opener against Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark. It's an interesting decision because it likely means Howard will sit until at least the weekend. On Tuesday, the Phils face Max Scherzer, against whom Howard is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts. On Wednesday, they draw lefty Gio Gonzalez.

Howard is 1 for 10 with four strikeouts in his last three games. He was hot after the All-Star break but the Phillies were still unlikely to be able to find a suitor for him because of the scarcity of American League teams in need of a DH. With just three days before Sept. 1, it seems extremely unlikely Howard will be moved. A player is not postseason eligible unless he's on a team's roster by Aug. 31. Thus, Joseph should get more playing time in September.

Jimmy Paredes gets another start in left field after striking the ball well three times on Sunday. Paredes has been productive lately, going 10 for 27 (.370) with two doubles and two homers in his last 14 games. He could be designated for assignment by the Phils soon if they need to clear a spot to add a prospect to the 40-man roster for a September call-up.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (.895 OPS in last 230 PA)
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, LF
9. Jake Thompson, P

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Crucial night for struggling Jake Thompson

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Crucial night for struggling Jake Thompson

Phillies (60-70) vs. Nationals (75-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

After salvaging the weekend series at Citi Field against the Mets with a win Sunday, the Phillies move on to face the NL East-leading Nationals for three games at home. 

Let's take a look at the series opener:

1. East Coast bias
The Phillies' series against the Mets was the first of five straight series against division opponents. The Phils have a total of 16 straight games vs. NL East teams through Sept. 12.

They host the Nationals and Braves this week, then have three in Miami and four in D.C. next week. 

Of the 32 remaining games on the Phillies' schedule, only six are against teams outside the NL East. The Pirates come to town for four games Sept. 12-16 and the White Sox are at Citizens Bank Park for a two-game series Sept. 20-21.

Overall, the Phillies have mostly held their own against the NL East this season, going 23-27. They're 8-5 against the Braves, 6-7 vs. the Marlins, 5-7 vs. the Mets and 4-8 vs. the Nationals. 

Despite trailing the Marlins by seven games, the Phils' division record is one game better.

2. Important night for Thompson
All eyes will be on Jake Thompson Monday night in his fifth major-league start. The first four have been disastrous, with Thompson going 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA. He's allowed 35 baserunners and 21 runs in 19⅓ innings. He's walked 13 and struck out 13.

A consistent theme in Thompson's first four starts has been an inability to get hitters out with men on base. His opponents have a .386 on-base percentage, three homers, two doubles and a triple in 45 plate appearances with men on base. Thompson just hasn't been able to throw strike one out of the stretch.

After Thompson's last start, Phils manager Pete Mackanin said that he'd talk with GM Matt Klentak about the plan the rest of the season for Thompson. Nobody wants to see the 22-year-old pitching prospect go out there and get shelled every fifth day. It could do some long-term damage to his confidence. Hitters and pitchers are different in that way. A 22-year-old position player can come up and try to correct his mistakes on a nightly basis. A 22-year-old pitcher who comes up and struggles has to sit and think about it for four nights before having an opportunity to bounce back.

The Nationals are another tough offense so this could be another short night for Thompson. Washington is second in the NL in home runs and in the top-four in runs, walks, OBP and slugging percentage. And the Nats have been hot in August, hitting .287 with an .817 OPS as a team.

3. Underrated Roark
The Phillies face 29-year-old Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark, who's had an excellent season, going 13-7 with a 2.99 ERA in 168⅓ innings.

Roark had a solid year in 2014, going 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, but was moved to the bullpen last season when the Nats lengthened their rotation by signing Max Scherzer. Roark, perhaps undeservedly so, was the odd man out. But after doing what he's done this season, he won't be demoted again any time soon.

Roark has shut the Phillies down three times this season, going seven innings in all three starts and allowing no runs in two of them. Roark is actually tied for the MLB lead with Jake Arrieta with seven games of seven-plus innings and no runs. 

Roark has approached the Phillies differently each time he's faced them this season. In the first start, he threw a ton of sinkers and mixed in curveballs and changeups. In the next start, he tripled his usage of the slider and threw fewer sinkers. In the third start, he doubled the frequency of four-seam fastballs. 

His heater averages about 93 mph.

4. Harper heating up
Bryce Harper broke out last year and won an MVP, then hit to start this season before going into a lengthy slump. His numbers are still nowhere near where they were at this time in 2015, but he is finally on a hot streak.

Over his last 20 games dating back to July 31, Harper has hit .342/.433/.579 with seven doubles, a triple, three homers and 18 RBIs. On the year, he's hitting .254/.387/.471 with 23 homers and 74 RBIs. He had 81 extra-base hits last season and has 43 this season.

Harper is still being pitched around. He has 92 walks and 89 strikeouts. He leads the majors with 16 intentional walks. 

He's destroyed the Phillies the last two seasons, hitting .341 with 11 homers, 24 RBIs, 24 walks and 24 strikeouts in 27 games.

5. This and that
• Cesar Hernandez has hit .345 with a .417 on-base percentage over his last 230 plate appearances, but also has a .478 slugging percentage over that span. He's given the Phillies pretty much everything from an offensive perspective for more than two months.

• It's incredible that Hector Neris has made a National League-leading 65 appearances this season, 31 with the Phillies leading by between 1-3 runs, and has just two blown saves. (Keep in mind a pitcher is given a blown save even if he appears earlier than the ninth inning. Setup men often have a handful or more.)

• Neris has 84 strikeouts. Based on his current pace, he's projected to finish with 105, which would be second-most ever by a Phillies reliever. Dick Selma had 153 in 1970, albeit in about 50 more innings than Neris will finish with.

• Daniel Murphy does not stop. He's hitting .343/.387/.607 in his first year with the Nats with 37 doubles, 25 homers and 98 RBIs.