Inside the Phillies: After a stumble, Kyle Kendrick gets back on track

Kyle Kendrick got his fifth win, giving up four hits and two runs while walking two over six innings.
Kyle Kendrick got his fifth win, giving up four hits and two runs while walking two over six innings. (Associated Press)
Posted: May 31, 2013

The foundation of the Phillies is their pitching.

It would have to be, of course, because if you tried to build something on top of this offense it would come crumbling down like a house of cards.

Only Domonic Brown, who hit two more home runs in the Phillies' 4-3 win over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, is carrying a strong enough piece of wood to build anything upon.

Only the Miami Marlins have scored fewer runs per game than the Phillies among baseball's 30 teams. You read that and realize that the kind of hope the 2013 Phillies have goes by two names: Slim and None.

Slim remains on the outskirts of town only because of what the Phillies have received from their pitchers and the performances they could potentially get from them going forward.

A lot has been made about how the Phillies have scored three or fewer runs in 30 of 53 games this season. Less attention has been paid to the fact that the Phillies have surrendered three runs or fewer 31 times. That includes 17 of 26 games this month.

With Roy Halladay gone for the foreseeable future, the Phillies are forced to count on Kyle Kendrick more than they have at any point before in the 28-year-old righthander's seven seasons.

For much of his career, he has been the sixth or seventh starter, a long reliever, the guy you'd call on only in emergency situations.

The Phillies have a different kind of emergency this season. Unless general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. can figure out a way to make this offense work, the Phillies need brilliant pitching on a nightly basis.

Kendrick has done his part. He delivered six more quality innings Wednesday night, holding one of the American League's best offensive teams to two runs on four hits.

It was the eighth time in 11 starts that Kendrick has gone at least six innings and allowed two or fewer runs. He is 5-0 with a 1.96 ERA in those starts and the Phillies are 7-1.

This start was perhaps the most crucial of the season for Kendrick. In his previous two outings, Kendrick allowed nine runs on 16 hits and walked eight batters in just 11 innings. Both games resulted in Phillies losses.

The grumbling had begun: Kendrick was falling back to the level so many expected.

"I knew what I was doing," Kendrick said. "I knew I just wasn't staying on my line and commanding the inner part of the plate to lefties. I did a better job of that, and my sinker and my change-up were more efficient that way."

Kendrick wasn't great, but he was really good, pitching around three walks and some shoddy defense.

It was Kendrick's own defense that made the biggest difference.

After Daniel Nava hit a leadoff home run to pull Boston within a run in the sixth, Kendrick found himself in danger of losing the lead when the next two hitters - Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli - reached on a Ryan Howard error and a walk.

Kendrick got Jarrod Saltalamacchia to fly out to shallow center field and thought he had struck out Mike Carp on a 1-2 pitch. Home plate umpire Dale Scott disagreed.

Kendrick was visibly disturbed.

"That just got to me," he said. "It was obviously a big situation, and I felt like I made my pitch. It must have been in on Dale's view. You can't let the inning unravel for yourself or the team. Yeah, I was hot, but I had to make another pitch, and I was able to do that."

Scott's call turned out to be a serendipitous decision for Kendrick when Carp hit a hard grounder up the middle on the next pitch. Kendrick stabbed at the ball, came up with it, and started a 1-6-3 double play that ended the inning.

He left the rest of the mound work for the trio of Antonio Bastardo, Mike Adams, and Jonathan Papelbon, who finished off the Red Sox.

Cliff Lee was brilliant Tuesday night in Boston, shutting down the Red Sox for eight innings, and Papelbon pitched a perfect ninth. The ninth was a little more nervous for Papelbon and the Phillies Wednesday, but the job got done. Once again the Phillies are within a game of .500, and Slim is creeping closer to the middle of town.

Pitching is the primary reason.

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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