WASHINGTON - Because of a 2-hour-plus rain delay 2 days ago, starter Kyle Kendrick threw fewer pitches than three of the five relievers who followed him in the Phillies' 6-5 loss to the Blue Jays.

So last night, the young righthander was available to help those relievers if he was needed in an emergency situation out of the bullpen.

That didn't happen, so Kendrick will make his next start Thursday against Houston, a day ahead of schedule.

"In all likelihood," pitching coach Rich Dubee said, "he will start Thursday."

Reliever Chad Durbin was unavailable to pitch last night, thanks to the season-high 66 pitches he threw in Sunday's loss. Dubee said it will be at least a couple of days before Durbin is ready to go again.

Righthander Clay Condrey, who threw 13 pitches 2 days ago and 18 pitches on May 16, was also unavailable. Ryan Madson, who threw 20 pitches in two innings on May 17, was a question mark.

For that reason, Kendrick was sent to the bullpen as an emergency reliever. But the Phillies want to get him back on the field as soon as possible. He threw just 12 pitches in a perfect first inning before a rain delay forced him from the game.

Lefthanders Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer pitch tonight and tomorrow. But righthander Adam Eaton, who has thrown fewer than six innings in each of his last three appearances, will be bumped back a day to make room for Kendrick.

Eaton began the season as the No. 5 starter, but leapfrogged on an off day and started ahead of Kendrick against the Mets on April 20.

Now, it looks like things will be back as they began.

Drabek update

Late in spring training, the Phillies were targeting the instructional leagues, which begin after the end of the minor league season, as a hopeful return date for 2006 first-round draft pick Kyle Drabek. But assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said yesterday there is a chance the 20-year-old righthander will start pitching again even sooner.

"He can possibly pitch competitively in August," Amaro said.

But Amaro hesitated to label Drabek, who underwent Tommy John surgery last July, ahead of schedule.

"I can't really crystal ball it," he said, "but I know if you ask the kid, he'd like to pitch tomorrow."

Benson update

The Phillies still aren't ready to place a timetable on the possible return of Kris Benson. The last time they did, they said they thought he might be ready to pitch in May. But with May half over, that won't be the case. Instead, the team seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach.

Benson recently threw 40 pitches in a simulated game. Ruben Amaro Jr. said he will throw 50 in his next outing on May 21, before a scheduled appearance in an extended spring training game on May 26.

Amaro said the biggest issue facing Benson, who also suffered biceps tendinitis in his surgically repaired throwing shoulder, is rehabbing his groin. Even after the veteran righthander is healthy, he will have to earn his way into the Phillies rotation.

"He's been set back twice," Amaro said. "We'll just have to see how he progresses. He's going to have to show some improvement for him to pitch in the big leagues. He's going to have to pitch like a big-leaguer to pitch in the big leagues. Just because he's there and throwing - he's going to have to be an effective pitcher for us for us to consider him."

Fearsome threesome

Ryan Howard's two-run home run in the first inning 2 days ago was his 10th of the season, moving him into the top 10 in the National League (he's tied with four other players, including Pat Burrell). Howard, Burrell and Chase Utley (14) have combined for more home runs than nine of the 30 major league clubs - and are tied with the Mets' team total. The Phillies are the only team in the NL with three players in the top 10 in home runs.

Phillers

Lefthander Matt Chico will start in place of righthander Shawn Hill for the Nationals tomorrow . . . J.D. Durbin, who was in competition for spots in the rotation and bullpen during spring training, was transferred from Triple A Lehigh Valley to Double A Reading. *

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.