CLEARWATER, Fla. - When Kyle Kendrick arrived at spring training, he did not walk into the Phillies' clubhouse and throw up his hands and shout, "Remember me?"
Turns out, he didn't need to.
While the offseason has been chock full of speculation about the No. 5 spot in the rotation, pitching coach Rich Dubee made it clear yesterday that the organization has not forgotten about the first two mostly solid seasons Kendrick spent in a Phillies uniform.
"He was a quick push to the major leagues and fortunately for us he pitched very, very well for us," Dubee said. "I will not forget about the job he has done for us. I have said all along that to me he is the leading guy going in as the fifth starter because of what he has done for 2 years."
That doesn't mean Kendrick is a lock to regain the spot he lost last September, when the team inserted lefthander J.A. Happ into the rotation, kept Happ on the postseason roster and sent Kendrick to the instructional leagues.
But it does mean that the team understands that the struggles the righthander endured last year are typical of a young big-league pitcher.
In some ways, Kendrick was a victim of his early success. After the Phillies called him up in June 2007 for what was supposed to be one start, the then-22-year-old went 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA in 20 starts while helping the team win its first National League East title in 14 years. Last season, the team won 12 of his first 16 starts, including a 4-0 victory over the Athletics on June 25 in which Kendrick pitched eight scoreless innings.
But as the season unfolded, the National League seemed to catch up with Kendrick's trademark sinker. In his last eight starts, Kendrick went 2-4 with an 8.74 ERA. The Phillies then dealt him a frustrating blow when they left him off the postseason roster, instead sending him to Florida to work on a changeup they viewed as a necessary complement to his sinker.
Since then, Kendrick has dedicated himself to regaining his spot in the rotation. He spent all offseason working on his changeup and slider, arriving in Clearwater a full 2 weeks before pitchers and catchers were required to report.
"It's a new year," Kendrick said. "I'm ready to go. I feel good . . . I think mentally going through that last year helped me out a lot."
Even if Kendrick doesn't win a roster spot in spring training, he still has plenty of time to develop into a consistent big-league starter. In his sinker, he has a go-to pitch that many young hurlers spend their whole careers trying to perfect. The key, according to Dubee, is gaining confidence in his secondary pitches so he can better battle lefthanded hitters, who have hit a robust .329 against him in 51 career games.
Kendrick will have to do so while competing with Happ, veteran Chan Ho Park, and righthanded prospect Carlos Carrasco. But Dubee made it clear yesterday he is the early favorite.
"That doesn't mean my eyes are closed to the other candidates by any means," Dubee said. "But again, Kyle is going to have to show that he can command his slider, that he is willing to use his changeup, and that he can get lefthanded hitters out better."
On Saturday, manager
his Opening Day starter. Manuel surprised many by giving that honor to righthander
last season. This time around, Manuel said, he has already penciled in the reigning World Series MVP . . . The emphasis continues to be on loosening up pitchers - most of the 22 arms here threw a bullpen session of 40 pitches yesterday - although Manuel said he was impressed with the velocity displayed by Rule 5 pick
. . . Lefthander
, who will get an opportunity to compete for a spot in the bullpen, did not throw yesterday due to an illness . . . Infielder
all reported to camp yesterday. Position players have their first official workout tomorrow . . . The Phillies maintain interest in adding veteran infielder