KYLE KENDRICK spent most of this past week searching for ways to snap out of the deepest funk of his young career. He missed a start, spent time in the bullpen, sat down and watched videotape of his most successful outing of the season.
Nobody was more disappointed with his previous five starts, and nobody worked harder to erase them from the record.
But whatever it is that ails the righthander continued to haunt him last night. By the time Charlie Manuel trudged out to the mound in the second inning and beckoned to the bullpen, Kendrick had allowed seven runs while recording just four outs.
The Phillies, meanwhile, couldn't dig themselves out of the hole, losing to the Marlins, 10-8, and falling 2 1/2 games behind the Mets with 18 to play.
"I got hit tonight. That's all I can say," said Kendrick (11-9, 5.44). "They're a fastball-hitting team, and they definitely hit the fastball tonight."
Impressive showings by both the Phillies' bullpen, which allowed three runs in 7 2/3 innings, and their offense, which put together a furious rally but could not capitalize on an opportunity to tie the game in the eighth, were overshadowed by the question mark that now lingers above the back end of the Phillies' rotation.
Although pitching coach Rich Dubee said earlier in the day he plans to pitch Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer every 5 days for the rest of the season, rather than giving them an extra day of rest after the Phillies' two remaining off days, he would still need a fifth starter to pitch on two more occasions.
Manuel declined to discuss his various options last night, saying instead that the team likely would make an announcement today.
In his last six starts, Kendrick has allowed 29 runs - all earned - in 23 innings, an ERA of 11.35.
The only other two pitchers who have made major league starts this season are lefthander J.A. Happ, who allowed three runs in 3 1/3 innings in relief of Kendrick, and righthander Adam Eaton, who is 4-8 with a 5.80 ERA this season and has not faced big- league hitters since July 27.
Manuel would not say if Eaton is a possibility.
"We'll talk about our pitching and we'll try to figure out the best possible way for us to go," Manuel said.
Kendrick ran into trouble early. After getting Hanley Ramirez to fly out to centerfield to start the game, he allowed four straight batters to reach base. The Marlins scored three runs in that first inning, but the biggest blow came in the second, when Jorge Cantu connected on a three-run home run with one out.
That prompted a pitching change. Happ retired four of the first six hitters he faced, but gave up a two-run homer to Mike Jacobs in the fourth inning and a solo home run to Cody Ross in the fifth.
The Phillies scored three runs in the fourth, two of which came on Ryan Howard's 41st home run. They then scored four in the sixth, all with no out, on a two-run double by Greg Dobbs and RBI singles by Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs, making it 10-8.
After Jimmy Rollins singled and stole second, the Phillies had runners on second and third with one out. But they came up short, and later stranded runners on first and third in the eighth.
In the end, though, the main focus was pitching.
Kendrick said he is still confident he can help the team. Whether the feeling is mutual remains to be seen.
"I am very confident,'' he said. "I just have to get out of this rut I am in. It's frustrating. No one wants to be in this, but a lot of guys go through it. Everybody goes through it. It's, like I said, bad timing. I've got to keep working. '' *
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.