Last night, Kyle Kendrick was on. Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras, not so much, but Kyle Kendrick definitely found a nice groove for eight innings. Unfortunately, he didn’t leave with a win, but it was a moral victory for him (I know, moral victories still kinda suck).
From what I saw last night, Kendrick was able to keep the ball down and mixed his pitches effectively throughout the night. After his last outing, a 1 2/3 inning debacle, KK started off strong by facing the minimum through three frames. In those first few innings, he was able to induce a double play off the bat of Chipper Jones, two strikeouts, and a total of six ground outs. Keeping the ball on the ground is exactly what a sinkerball pitcher needs to be continually in control. As we witnessed in his first two outings against Washington, Kendrick had a tough time with his pitches up in the zone.
On April 14th – you remember, the one that was 7-6 Phillies after two innings – his location was inexcusable. Perhaps Kendrick was squeezed a bit by the umpire in that short start, however, good pitchers find their way around that. In the first inning, he left a pitch middle-in to Adam Kennedy (top-right photo), who roped it into the right center field gap. In the second, after a Christian Guzman RBI single, Josh Willingham (middle) added two-more on a ground-rule double to left. The pitch he saw was DIRECTLY down the middle of the dish, and the Hammer smoked it. Add all of that to his three walks and an awful ball/strike ratio (54 pitches, only 23 strikes) and it’s easy to see why Kyle Kendrick couldn’t get to the third inning.
Bring it back to last night in Atlanta where those problems all seemed to vanish. Of his 108 pitches, 61 were strikes. That isn’t an overly-impressive ratio, however, it’s sure beats a 42 percent strike-throwing figure. It all goes back to keeping the ball in the bottom half of the strike zone, which caused the Braves to swing on top of the ball (Matt Diaz, bottom-right) for most of the night. His only speed bump was a rocky 4th inning in which a Chipper Jones double made it second and third with one out. Troy Glaus subsequently grounded into an easy double play, which acted as a needle filled with confidence.
Following the averted disaster in the fourth, Kendrick allowed only two more base runners the rest of the evening. What happened next was out of his control.
According to Paul Boye, our resident numbers-cruncher, Kendrick tossed 70 fastballs (65% of his pitches, 66% were strikes), whether they be a two-seamer, four-seamer or a sinker. He also mixed in a change up (18 times) and slider (23) brilliantly. This balance left Braves hitters off-kilter for eight strong. On the positive side of a downright ugly loss, KK was superb, which hopefully can snowball into a heap of poise and self-assurance.
All pitch fx info from Brooks Baseball.