Kendrick calm as key Game 2 nears
Rookie right-hander never expected to start playoff game
PHILADELPHIA -- During a Sept. 12 contest at Citizens Bank Park, the Rockies left a bruise on Kyle Kendrick's right knee. On Thursday, the Phillies rookie right-hander hopes to leave an impact in the National League Division Series.
Tabbed the Game 2 starter by manager Charlie Manuel, Kendrick has made 20 big league starts since being promoted from Double-A Reading in June as an emergency fill-in for Freddy Garcia. As fate would have it, two of those appearances were against the Rockies.
Kendrick's Sept. 12 outing was cut short in the fourth inning when Colorado's Garrett Atkins drilled him on the right knee with a liner. Crumpling to the ground in pain, the righty's day ended after three-plus innings, as he was touched for four runs on seven hits.
It was one of the few times this season things didn't break right for Kendrick.
"Obviously it hurt, and I had X-rays and everything," Kendrick said. "The next day, after icing, it felt a lot better. Yeah, it was a little scary, but you know, we did a good job taking care of it -- glad I didn't miss a start."
In a season of resiliency for the Phillies, Kendrick, like his team, bounced back. He ended his regular season with a Sept. 27 victory over the Braves, giving up three runs in six innings.
After dropping a 4-2 decision to the Rockies in Game 1 of the NLDS, the Phillies will be banking on Kendrick to help them pull even on Thursday.
"Obviously, I know it's a big game," Kendrick said. "Everybody knows that. I'm going to stay calm. I'll be a little nervous before the game, but other than that, it's another game."
Just observing from the dugout on Wednesday, Kendrick has a taste of the postseason, even though he has yet to toss a pitch.
"You could tell by the atmosphere and the crowd, and the introduction before the game, that it's a big game," Kendrick said. "You've got to stay calm and do your thing.
"We've been fighting and clawing all year. We're down one in the best-of-five. We're right there. If we win tomorrow, it's a new series. We've got to come out and get them tomorrow."
Manuel credits the emergence of Kendrick as one of the reasons the Phillies roared through September to claim the NL East.
Kendrick was a diamond in the rough. A seventh-round pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, the Houston native wasn't invited to big league camp for Spring Training.
Finding much about him was equally challenging.
In the Minor League section of the Phillies' media guide, listed alphabetically, Kendrick's bio page doesn't appear until page 327 in a 368-page book.
Still, Manuel was monitoring his Minor League reports.
When Garcia, who was being counted on heavily as a frontline starter, was lost to a shoulder problem, Kendrick was called up. Given an opportunity but no guarantee, he seized a rotation spot and finished up with a 10-4 record and a 3.87 ERA in 121 innings.
"This Spring Training, I saw him and he had gotten bigger, and he's grown some," Manuel said. "He's put on a little more weight. And I'd see the reports every day, and I could tell how good he was pitching and everything.
"So when he came here, actually, it was kind of on a look-see basis. He was coming to fill a stopgap for us, and we would evaluate where he's at and everything. He's the guy that jumped out, and he did his job early. And the better he pitched, of course, the more he got to pitch."
Without overwhelming stuff, Kendrick simply retired batters and compiled innings. In fact, taking the liner off his knee in a loss to Colorado marked his only start that didn't last at least five innings.
He lets hitters put the ball in play so his defense can work for him. Kendrick's game-high strikeout effort was six in six innings in a no-decision at Washington on Sept. 22.
|"Obviously, I know it's a big game. Everybody knows that. I'm going to stay calm. I'll be a little nervous before the game, but other than that, it's another game."|
|-- Kyle Kendrick|
"He is very aggressive -- right away, he gets first-pitch strikes," catcher Carlos Ruiz said. "He's got a good sinker and slider. If he throws a lot of strikes tomorrow, he's got a good chance."
The more he pitched, the more he felt like he belonged.
"He will probably tell you his confidence grew and he just kept right on going," Manuel said. "He's been here ever since, and he's won 10 games. He's a big reason why we're here today."
The twist is that Kendrick never really expected to be here, bracing to face the high-powered Rockies in front of the rabid, towel-waving fans at Citizens Bank Park.
In a city that hasn't celebrated the postseason since 1993, Kendrick was prepared to keep paying his dues in Reading. His Minor League numbers were good, not great, and they didn't suggest he was about to be brought up to help save a season.
"No, I didn't think I was going to be here," said Kendrick, who was 4-7 with a 3.21 ERA in 12 Minor League starts. "But I'm here, and I'm just trying to help our team win. I'm going to go out [Thursday] and just take it as another game. Obviously, it's a bigger game. I'm just going to do my thing."
His thing is pushing into the fifth and sixth innings. At home, he has been at his best, finishing with a 7-1 record and 3.76 ERA in 11 starts.
"For a young kid coming up from Double-A this year, he was very composed," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He has a great presence on the mound, and he's been very, very big for us.
"He stepped right in since game one. He's been in total control on the mound. He keeps his concentration very well. He's really done a good job for us, and he's made pitches when he's really had to."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.