Sent to Minors, Kendrick vows to return
Young right-hander struggled in bid to regain fifth starter's role
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Kyle Kendrick gave himself a couple of hours to collect his thoughts Monday afternoon at Bright House Field, which seemed understandable considering the circumstances.
The Phillies had optioned Kendrick, who pitching coach Rich Dubee had proclaimed the favorite to win the fifth starter's job before Spring Training began last month, to Minor League camp.
The move left left-hander J.A. Happ and right-hander Chan Ho Park dueling for the job. Right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who entered the spring in the competition, remains in camp, but is expected to open the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
"How am I feeling?" Kendrick said. "At first I was upset, but I know what I need to do. I'm going to go down there and work on my secondary pitches. I'll be back."
He'll be back.
Kendrick drove home that point in a nearly 10-minute conversation with reporters inside the clubhouse. He went 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA in 20 starts as a rookie in 2007. He also started Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Rockies. But he went 11-9 with a 5.49 ERA in 31 appearances (30 starts) last season, and ultimately lost his starter's job to Happ when he went 1-4 with an 11.35 ERA in a six-start stretch Aug. 11-Sept. 9.
The Phils left Kendrick off the postseason roster in favor of Happ.
"I see myself as a big league pitcher," Kendrick said.
The Phillies said they do, too.
"He's going to get back to the big leagues," Dubee said. "Jamie Moyer had to go back [to the Minors]. Roy Halladay had to go back."
So did Brett Myers.
So did Gavin Floyd.
Kendrick struggled last season because he had one pitch -- his sinker -- and big league hitters finally had caught on.
"People used to ask, 'What's he got?'" manager Charlie Manuel said. "It's his sinker and composure. And that's what he had."
Philadelphia told Kendrick to improve his secondary pitches in Lehigh Valley.
"I didn't show my offspeed stuff early enough," the young righty said. "It was a little erratic at times. It just needs to get better. I know I need to get better and the things I need to do. I'll go down there with a clear mind and get better and I'll be back."
Kendrick (1-3, 9.20 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts) acknowledged his initial surprise Monday morning, but he also knew how well Happ (0-0, 3.15 ERA in six appearances) and Park (1-0, 1.54 ERA in three appearances) had been pitching.
"I'm not going to lie, I knew that they were pitching good," Kendrick said. "I had a couple games when I didn't pitch good. I guess I didn't do well, obviously."
The move also seems to indicate the Phils are comfortable with the progress left-hander Cole Hamels has made since he received an anti-inflammatory injection into his left elbow last Tuesday. Hamels is scheduled to start a Minor League Spring Training game Tuesday. He probably will not be ready to pitch Opening Night on April 5, but if he continues to progress he could pitch April 10 against the Rockies in Denver.
Kendrick was not an option for the bullpen.
"I think they see me and I see myself as a starter for my career," Kendrick said. "I'm not going to be a bullpen guy. If there's no room here, I'll go to Triple-A. Go down there, work on those pitches and come back. I need to get better. I need to get those pitches better. How long that takes me is up to me."
If he pitches well for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but only throws his sinker, the Phillies will not bring him back. They said he must develop his slider and changeup, and be confident enough to throw them in different situations.
"I told him he needs to pitch just like when he came up," Dubee said. "There were no expectations of Kyle Kendrick when he first came up. ... He was a draw out of the hat. He wasn't even a guy who had been in big league camp that season. It was just a quick rush. Boom, here you are. And hey, if he pitched great, he pitched great, if he pitched poorly, well, he probably was supposed to pitch poorly, because he was a Double-A kid being rushed.
"There aren't any expectations. The only expectations of him are to be committed to executing pitches. If he throws 100 pitches, how many can he throw to a specific location, with a firm commitment to? That's the mark of where he's making progress. I don't care what his numbers are in Triple-A. Again, if he pitches to a 2.00 ERA in Triple-A and it's all predominantly sinkers, we have the same Kyle Kendrick we have right now. And that isn't good enough. So we are looking for growth in the pitching."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.