SAN FRANCISCO — In this ballpark by the bay about two years ago, Mick Billmeyer stopped Kyle Kendrick after a bullpen session. Kendrick was being shuttled between the bullpen and the rotation, and Billmeyer, then the bullpen coach, worried about his confidence.
"Some guys," he told Kendrick, "are just late bloomers."
Kendrick remembered the message, and it is one repeated over and over as the 28-year-old Phillies pitcher achieves excellence. A 6-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night served as the latest validation for Kendrick.
"I had a feeling about him," Billmeyer said before he watched Kendrick toss seven fine innings. Few people did.
Behind Kendrick, the Phillies clinched a series victory at AT&T Park for just the fifth time in 15 tries. On Wednesday, they will attempt their first sweep in San Francisco since 1984. They jumped Tim Lincecum, long a nemesis but dealing with his own demons, in the early innings Tuesday. This is how Charlie Manuel wanted a seven-game western trip to commence.
No one is more reliable for these Phillies than Kendrick. The team is 5-2 in games he starts, and one of those losses was by 1-0. The righthander struck out six, walked none, and scattered six hits. His 2.45 ERA is inches away from cracking the National League's 10 best.
"He's been super," Manuel said.
Kendrick threw 88 pitches and handed it to Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon, who secured the victory with flawless relief. A quick lead provided comfort. For the second straight night, the offense and pitching clicked at once. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard homered and figured in every scoring outburst.
The Phillies smoked Lincecum for three runs on five hits before the second inning was finished. They took advantage of a Lincecum weakness: His 7.64 ERA in the first inning since 2012 is the highest for any pitcher in baseball with at least 30 starts.
"The last couple of nights we've had better at-bats," Utley said. "We've worked the count a little bit more. We've swung at our pitches in the strike zone. We have some hits to show for it."
Lincecum threw 31 pitches in the first and somehow stuck around to complete seven innings. Howard drilled one past Marco Scutaro at second base for a first-inning single that scored Utley. The lead became three runs in the second inning when Laynce Nix and Ben Revere singled and scored on a Jimmy Rollins groundout and an Utley single.
That prompted a mound visit from Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti, who positioned his face inches from Lincecum's. He slapped his pitcher on the butt after delivering his message. Lincecum settled down.
He could not match Kendrick, who has a 2.44 ERA in his last 17 starts, dating from 2012. He has pitched at least six innings in six straight starts. He has allowed two or fewer runs in six straight starts. Tuesday was another masterpiece. The first batter he faced, Angel Pagan, fell to one knee when swinging through a change-up. It was just the beginning of another sublime night.
After using 21 pitches to record six outs, Kendrick encountered trouble in the third. His 25-inning road scoreless streak ended when San Francisco scored two runs in the inning. The fourth inning started ominously, too. Buster Posey singled and Michael Young booted a would-be double-play ball hit by Hunter Pence to put two Giants on base.
That is when Kendrick displayed his evolved talent. He struck out Gregor Blanco looking on a cutter. He caught Brandon Belt watching a beautiful sinker that started at his hip and broke over the corner of the plate for strike three. He induced an easy groundout to third by Brandon Crawford for the final out.
"I've always loved baseball, but obviously when you win it's more fun," Kendrick said. "We're having a good time right now. Hopefully we can keep winning. I'm feeling good. I feel like every time we go out there we're going to win a game."
Kendrick's pitches showed more movement than ever Tuesday. He routinely threw his sinker inside to lefthanded batters. The change-up is a legitimate out pitch to any hitter. The cutter works as a fine complement to both pitches.
Billmeyer's encouragement two years ago was prophetic. Kendrick, so often the punch line of jokes, is a proud pitcher in this, his seventh and most promising season.