MIAMI - When the Phillies visited Arizona last month for a four-game series with the Diamondbacks, second-year righthander Kyle Kendrick made it a point to seek an audience with 2006 National League Cy Young winner Brandon Webb.
Like Kendrick, Webb is a sinkerball pitcher who made his major league debut for a playoff-contending team at a relatively young age. But Kendrick wasn't seeking philosophical guidance. Instead, he wanted to get some inside information on the changeup that Webb has developed as a compliment to his devastating sinker.
"Once he got his changeup down, he was Cy Young," Kendrick said. "I'm not saying at all that I'm going to be like Brandon Webb, but for sinkerball guys, it's going to help us a lot."
Kendrick and pitching coach Rich Dubee think that developing a consistent changeup is the next big step the 23-year-old must take in his progress as a major league starter. First and foremost, he needs the pitch to improve against lefthanded hitters, who are hitting a robust .331 off him this season. But he also needs the pitch to keep hitters in general off-balance, especially now that most of the National League has seen him throw.
"Everybody knows sinker is my best pitch," Kendrick said. "If I'm [behind in the count] 1-0, now everyone knows I'm throwing a sinker."
Ever since spring training, Kendrick has turned the changeup into his own personal Manhattan Project, studying tape of Webb's games and working on mechanics with Phillies veteran Jamie Moyer.
Dubee said he would rather Kendrick had worked on the pitch in the minor leagues. But at that level, his sinker was effective enough that he did not feel the need to diversify. Besides, he was trying to get to the big leagues as fast as possible, a mind-set that emphasizes immediate production over long-term development.
"It's something he definitely needs to be able to do here," Dubee said.
The key, Kendrick and Dubee said, is using the pitch during games. Throughout the season, they have eased him into it by picking pitcher-friendly situations in which to utilize the changeup.
Kendrick estimated he threw 10 in his most recent appearance, a 6-2 win over Atlanta on June 7, in which he got a no-decision. Webb, he said, typically throws 15 to 20 changeups in any given game.
Kendrick certainly has time to fine-tune the pitch. He doesn't turn 24 - Webb's age his first season - until August. In fact, today marks the 1-year anniversary of his call-up to the majors.
"I think it's going to take a little while to get it, but the last game, I threw some good ones," Kendrick said. "It's just repeating my delivery with it and trusting it. Because sometimes it's like, 'I don't know if I want to throw this.' All the time with my sinker, there is 100 percent confidence. Even though it gets hit sometimes, I have full confidence when I'm throwing it. So that's the main thing."
Marcia Coste didn't deliver just a baby girl, she delivered a new backup catcher. After Chris Coste left Miami before the Phillies' 6-2 loss to the Marlins Wednesday night to fly to Philadelphia for the birth of daughter Camryn, outfielder Jayson Werth became the team's de facto second-stringer behind the plate.
Werth actually was drafted as a catcher in the first round by the Orioles and was converted to the outfield only after he was traded to a Blue Jays organization rife with prospects behind the plate.
He has played the position some in spring training, including this season, when he caught Brett Myers in a minor league start.
"The offseason before, when I was a free agent, that was kind of one of my selling points," said Werth, who travels with his own catching gear. "You don't have to carry a third catcher if you've got me."
The Phillies won't have to worry about it much longer. Coste is scheduled to rejoin the team today in St. Louis.
The Phillies reached deals with four more draft picks yesterday, pushing the total to 19. Righthanders Michael Stutes (11th round, Oregon State), Michael Schwimer (14th round, Virginia) and Tyler Cloyd (18th round, Bellevue, Neb.), and outfielder Damarii Saunderson (15th round, Northville High/Novi, Mich.) all agreed to contracts. The Phillies still have 34 draft picks unsigned, including first-rounder Anthony Hewitt.
Only a few minutes after Charlie Manuel acknowledged being surprised at the Cardinals' success this season, reserve outfielder and former Cardinal So Taguchi disagreed.
"I'm not surprised, because of Tony," said Taguchi, who signed with the Phillies this offseason after six seasons in St. Louis, referring to manager Tony La Russa.
"He really likes to make players compete," Taguchi said. "It's a good situation for them right now."
Cardinals righty Jason Isringhausen, disabled because of a lacerated right hand and frayed confidence, might be activated this weekend. Isringhausen has had two scoreless rehab outings and said that while he was at spring training in Jupiter, Fla., rehabbing pitchers Chris Carpenter and Josh Kinney spotted a flaw in his delivery, whereby Isringhausen might be tipping his curveball.
"Mentally, I feel a lot better," Isringhausen told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. *