Kyle Kendrick, Pitching Savior
I couldn’t care less that the Phillies are on a pace to break the franchise record for regular season wins. It matters not a whit that the team could finish with 108 or 110 victories. Forget about it all. If the Phils take the East and maintain the top mark in the National League, it won’t matter if they have 99 or 109 triumphs. And you shouldn’t care, either.
At this point in the season, it is all about the ring. In order to get that valuable piece of jewelry, manager Charlie Manuel might need to employ a six-man starting rotation—Hello, Kyle Kendrick!—so that his hosses can get a little extra rest. He might even skip their spots in the rotation once or twice, the better to bank some innings for October, rather than wasting them on the Fish or Nats.
This is not all about Cole Hamels’ struggles Friday night, after which we learned he had arm fatigue, shoulder stiffness or lumbago. But that certainly plays a role. Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee have thrown more innings than any other pitcher in the NL except the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. If the Phillies plan on playing an extra 15 to 19 games in October, they’re going to need each of those pitchers another five times each. Starting them one or two fewer times over the final six weeks of the season makes tremendous sense, even if that compromises the team’s run at a wins record.
Anybody who gets upset about that had better remember that the franchise mark for triumphs (101) was set by the 1976 and ’77 Phils, both of whom crapped out in the NLCS. Not just the Phils have followed regular season greatness with playoff futility. The 2001 Mariners won 116 games from April-September and then lost in the post-season. Remember the ’93 Braves? Won 104 games before falling to the Phils in the NLCS. The 1954 Indians won 111 times – in just 154 games – but were swept by the Giants in the World Series. Brooklyn in ’53 (105 victories). San Francisco in ’62 (103). The ’63 Yankees (104). Loss. Loss. Loss. Get the picture?
Hamels’ performance against the Nationals may have been a single blip in an otherwise tremendous season. We can’t expect the guy to be a machine and throw eight or nine one-run innings every week. That’s unreasonable. He’s going to have a few bad outings. Friday’s could have been caused by a tired arm or shoulder stiffness. After all, it was a cool, dry evening down at the ballpark. All the more reason to let the guy have a few extra days off.
If Manuel is indeed toying with the idea of a six-man rotation, he should employ it soon. Some may blanch at the idea of sending Kendrick to the hill every sixth day, but that won’t happen. Not counting today, the Phils have two more off days on the calendar, meaning the five main starters will get a natural extra day off a couple times. And Kendrick hasn’t been awful of late. He threw eight shutout innings at Colorado on August 2nd and has lasted at least six innings in four of his last six starts. At a time when teams are dying for a good fourth starter, the Phils’ number six has a 3.25 ERA.
If Manuel doesn’t want to go with the six-pack, he can use Kendrick as a fill-in for Halladay, Lee and Hamels. Roy Oswalt’s successful turn Saturday night against the Nats (7.0 IP, 3 ER, fastball in the low 90s late) means the Phils now have five reliable starters (Don’t forget the Vanimal!) plus Kendrick. So, if Manuel decides any of his Big Three should skip a turn, the better to protect his arm from an extra 110 pitches or so, he can insert Kendrick. That strategy may preclude the Phils from doing something historic, but be honest, can you remember how many regular season wins the 1980 or 2008 teams had?
It’s not about team records or history. It’s about winning it all. This is not a directive for Manuel to throw on the retrorockets and coast home. Baseball success depends too much on momentum to risk something like that. But it’s just plain sensible for the manager to provide some respite from the game’s daily grind for his top pitchers, none of whom needs to head into the post-season with 230 innings under his belt, especially if the Phils keep a healthy lead over the Braves. Hamels’ outing Friday night was a caution flag. He needs some rest. So do Halladay and Lee, no matter how strong and determined they may be. The goal is October success, not April-to-September glory. Let’s hope Manuel understands that and acts accordingly.
- Placido Polanco feels better and appears ready to play through his sports hernia. And even though his injury doesn’t seem as severe as Raul Ibanez’s 2009 version, it’s still a nasty bastard to deal with. Let’s hope putting off surgery until after the season doesn’t land Polanco on the bench in October.
- When was the last time we came out of a pre-season opener with no real complaints about the Eagles? The offense looked crisp under Michael Vick’s command, and the D was suitably nasty. The only gripe I have is with the TV broadcast, which was right out of the Tass propaganda playbook.
- The conference realignment carousel is paused right now, but it could well start spinning again soon. Fans of Villanova and Temple had better pay attention, because the day when D-I football will have four 16-team conferences is coming, and the ‘Cats and Owls don’t want to be left out, although they might not have a choice in the matter.