Phillies take series opener from Nationals, 4-2

Posted: August 26, 2012

Kyle Kendrick did not flinch as Citizens Bank Park groaned. His 113th pitch was a sinker too far inside to Kurt Suzuki, and the Washington catcher trotted to first base with a two-out walk. Erik Kratz fired a ball at Kendrick, and the infielders walked in circles.

There would have been little shame had manager Charlie Manuel emerged from the dugout, tossed his chewing gum onto the dirt, and removed his starting pitcher. Kendrick carried an admirable scoreless streak and barely lost Suzuki with his pitch count rising.

Instead, Manuel stood still in the seventh inning of a 4-2 Phillies victory. Kendrick had gained enough trust to pitch Friday in a situation usually reserved for someone else. Weeks ago, his job was tenuous.

When Kendrick promptly served a two-run homer that silenced the crowd, the next reaction provided the prevailing soundtrack. Manuel took the ball from Kendrick, who departed to a standing ovation.

"I'm definitely glad he left me out there," Kendrick said. "You expect to be there. That's nice to see, for sure."

There was appreciation for a 21-inning scoreless streak that had just ended. Moreover, it was confirmation for a pitcher yo-yoed, criticized, and labeled. The Phillies have insisted Kendrick deserves a regular spot in the rotation for the remainder of the season.

His recent performance could dictate more.

"He had control of the game," Manuel said.

Kendrick mastered two hapless teams - Miami and Milwaukee - but this performance came against the team with the best record in baseball.

Those 20 outs recorded by Kendrick were important because Manuel decided no one in the bullpen was capable of a full inning. The Phillies apparently discovered their new eighth-inning strategy along the way. Four pitchers - Antonio Bastardo, Josh Lindblom, Raul Valdes, and B.J. Rosenberg - held Washington scoreless and even struck out the side.

During one span of eight Nationals hitters, the Phillies used seven pitchers. Jonathan Papelbon closed it with two strikeouts.

Kendrick started it, and he is one of the more compelling reasons to watch the remainder of this lost season. He has not been guaranteed a rotation spot since 2010. While pitching in the bullpen and rotation, he posted a 22-inning scoreless streak in July.

This latest one barely fell short of that, but was more impressive. Kendrick is striking out more batters, inducing more ground balls, and displaying confidence.

Phillies officials are keen on their rotation depth for 2013. Trevor May, Ethan Martin, Jonathan Pettibone, and Adam Morgan - all 23 or younger come next April - could start at triple A. The latter two do not possess overwhelming stuff, but scouts are impressed with their ability to pitch as they ascend the system.

That means should Kendrick or Vance Worley falter, there are viable insurance plans. And should both remain effective members of the starting rotation, the Phillies could deal from a position of strength to acquire, say, a third baseman.

Kendrick's recent performance only helps.

"He's been one of those guys who has always had to fight to survive," Manuel said. "No one can ever say he's not a survivor. He finds a way. When he's pitching like that, it just goes to show you he is a valuable commodity. He can do the job."

His support on Friday was not overwhelming. Chase Utley singled to right for a first-inning run. Jimmy Rollins slapped a single to left in the fourth that scored two because of Laynce Nix's hustle.

Kendrick made it stand. Before Tyler Moore's home run landed, a hunched Kendrick put his hands on his knees in disgust. Then, as the fans feted him with cheers, he slapped his right hand against his black glove.

He did not succeed in a vital spot. That his manager had confidence to let him have the opportunity said plenty.


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @magelb.

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