It pains me to say it. It pains me after a 10-4 season in 2007 when he was one of two sure things in the Phillies rotation. But it’s true: Right now, Kyle Kendrick just can’t cut it in the major leagues.
After a slightly better than mediocre start against the Rays Saturday, Kendrick faced a United States team that was a veritable murderer’s row. The names — the game’s best: Rollins, Wright, Pedroia, Youkilis, Braun, Dunn, McCann, Victorino, Jones. No pitcher should be asked to be brilliant against them, of course, and Kendrick wasn’t expected to be brilliant against them. For two innings, however, he performed well; only when he faced his teammates Victorino and Rollins did things start to fall apart. They crumbled when Chipper Jones blasted a three-run bomb off him.
Throughout that harrowing third inning, Kendrick displayed the type of emotion you’d expect from a little leaguer: Throwing arms in the air, he acted like a man who lost all hope in his teammates. Of course, having a first baseman whose glove still resembles a rubber wall might hurt, but Kendrick has to be better than that.
We forget very quickly that Kendrick is merely 24 years old. He broke into the majors at age 22, coming in with an above-average sinker, an average fastball and a non-existent changeup. For that first season, Kendrick was tough to beat because nobody had a read on him. Stashed in double-A, Kendrick was a wild card at first glance — he willed his way through 2007 by beating up on aggressive, young and bad offenses (Florida, San Diego, Pittsburgh all hit poorly against him). Against powerful offenses such as the White Sox, Rockies and Reds? Not so hot. His game two blowup in the 2007 division series against the Rockies only confirmed the kid had a long way to go.
2008 wasn’t such a banner year for Kendrick. Though he hung in for a while, he quickly turned into a one-trick pony. And once hitters found out the trick, he was cooked. That’s when the head games began: Reports said Kendrick’s mind was sailing in other places; once there was doubt about his rotation position, he only made it worse. He couldn’t handle it. And now, with Kendrick in the midst of yet another competition, he’s not handling it.
Are we jumping the gun? Possibly. (It is only Spring Training, remember.) Kendrick could rebound and toss a few solid outings en route to the fifth-starter role, but I doubt he will. In 2007 Kendrick was thrown into the rotation as a beacon of hope. There wasn’t much pressure for Kendrick to perform well — if he wasn’t the medicine, he’d move back to Reading; instead, he gave the Phils enough chances to win, and in time their record improved. By the time he had proven himself, Kendrick was a lock for the rotation; there was no reason for his head to play games. But in 2008, and now, Kendrick has many reasons to let his emotions get the best of him.
Sure, the Phillies don’t need a dominant force at the No. 5 spot, but who would you take? The seemingly poised and stuff-stuffed JA Happ, or the uncertain and grounder-reliant Kendrick? Personally, I’d take Happ, who doesn’t mind uncorking a high and inside fastball that can beat hitters; when Kendrick throws a high and inside fastball, it gives hitters a meal for a feast.
Maybe Kendrick can channel his inner chi and keep the ball down, initiate grounders and not allow himself to get rattled when the defense doesn’t come up perfectly. But as baseball is a season-long roller coaster of emotions, it’s very hard to believe Kendrick can keep himself composed long enough. He just isn’t cut out for it yet.