Happ, Kendrick, and mediocre baseball

Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick blows on his hand next to catcher Carlos Ruiz. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick blows on his hand next to catcher Carlos Ruiz. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 07, 2014

When the Phillies were mustering up for another postseason run near the trade deadline in 2010, they needed to put a starting pitcher in the trade package to the Houston Astros for Roy Oswalt.

The Astros were looking to get younger - and looking to shave some salary, which goes hand in hand - and the choices weren't all that many. Houston could go after J.A. Happ, Vance Worley, or Kyle Kendrick. That was the inventory in stock.

Pages fall off the calendar, the Phillies eventually fell off the postseason parade at the end of the 2011 season, and two of the guys who were near the epicenter of that trade with the Astros took the mound Monday night in front of friends and family at Citizens Bank Park.

Neither Happ nor Kendrick developed into a top-of-the-rotation starter, so the decision in 2010 was a push. Maybe the Phillies would have been better off by keeping both, particularly since the whole Four Aces thing didn't last very long. It turned out, however, to be one of those moments that looked bigger at the time than it was.

"I'm not the right guy to ask why or whatever happened for whatever reason, but it is nice to come back," Happ said Monday after taking the win in a mostly lifeless 3-0 Phillies loss to Toronto. "I was a little surprised when I did get traded. They say the first trade is always more emotional. I still know a lot of guys over there. I know Kyle really well."

Happ was 14-5 with a 3.11 earned run average in his Phillies career, including a 12-4 record in 2009 that appeared to put him on the map. Instead, it made him attractive trade bait and the Phillies' decision has been mostly backed up. Happ has gone 27-37 during his time with Houston and Toronto, enduring several injury setbacks along the way, including last season when he took a line drive to the head that cost him three months.

"Happ and I are boys. We came up together. It was fun tonight to face him," said Kendrick, who took the loss after three of the first seven batters scored and the Phillies couldn't do anything to turn that around. "What he's been through, getting hit in the head, his knee, some back problems. He looked good. I'm always pulling for him, except when I'm pitching against him."

Kendrick was the one who stayed, and his career may have had fewer fluctuations, but the results have been similar. He was 30-18 in his Phillies career at the 2010 trade deadline, and also attractive on the open market. Since then, he has a 34-40 record and will become a free agent after this season.

Happ is in the last guaranteed year of his contract. The Blue Jays have the option of paying him $6.7 million for 2015 or giving him $200,000 to go away. He and Kendrick, who were in such similar situations four seasons ago, with winning records and bright futures, are now pitching for those futures.

"Career-wise, he's never been a real efficient type of pitcher, not going deep into games," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "We made an adjustment in his arm angle that we hope will help him get more ground balls. He's where he wants to be now, so it's his opportunity."

The box score says that Happ outpitched Kendrick on Monday, but neither had a great night. Happ had the good fortune to work against a Phillies lineup that had three of the eight position players batting below .200 for the season. Third baseman Cody Asche and leftfielder Domonic Brown didn't start against the lefthander, and shortstop Jimmy Rollins was out of the starting lineup to protect a slight groin strain. Their replacements - Jayson Nix, John Mayberry Jr., and Freddy Galvis - gave Happ plenty of gaps to work around in the lineup.

Kendrick wasn't as lucky and, at least at the start, wasn't as sharp, either. The first pitch of the game was at 7:09 p.m. and leadoff hitter Jose Reyes took the first strike over the wall in right-center at 7:10 p.m. The Jays added another run in the first and one more in the second and that stood up.

If you are looking for reasons to believe the Phillies will be something more than a .500 team, Monday's game was not the place to look. Even when the starters are all right - and Kendrick's three-run effort in seven innings was just that - it's even money that the offense will not be able to keep pace. And when the team is able to score, it's about the same odds that the starter won't help the cause.

Many of the 25,275 who found their way to the ballpark on Monday left quietly after the eighth inning. It was a school night and the lesson of the evening had been pretty clear.

A couple of teams scuffled around headed for somewhere near .500. A couple of starting pitchers did pretty much the same thing. Kendrick and Happ could have changed places and changed uniforms and not much else would really change.

It almost happened once, and that seemed to matter at the time. Now, not quite as much.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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