CLEARWATER, Fla. - The biweekly bullpen sessions started in late January. Every Tuesday and Friday, Rich Dubee made the 60-mile drive from his home in Sarasota to watch Roy Halladay and Kyle Kendrick throw from mounds outside Bright House Field.
The Phillies pitching coach's interest in Halladay, his fallen ace, was obvious. Kendrick did his work, and no one - even Dubee - needed to tell him the words he had waited five years to hear.
"I guess it was just known," Kendrick said.
The 28-year-old righthander arrived at camp knowing he already had secured a rotation spot. Kendrick will be the Phillies' fourth starter. He clinched that status by pitching 63 impressive innings over 48 days at the end of last season. He had not begun a spring with a starting job since 2008.
"It's a good feeling," Kendrick said. "But you still want to work harder. It makes me want to be better. I want more."
The Phillies are entrusting Kendrick with more responsibility partly out of necessity, but also because they believe real growth has occurred. A dearth of outfielders required them to trade Vance Worley to Minnesota for Ben Revere. Joe Blanton is gone. The Phillies have invested $324 million in their top three starters, so another pricey addition is unlikely.
When Blanton was traded, the Phillies awarded Kendrick another audition. He failed to pitch beyond the fourth inning in each of his first two starts while transitioning from a relief role.
Then, in his final 10 starts, he pitched to a 2.43 ERA. His strikeouts were up, reaching levels the pitch-to-contact Kendrick had never achieved. His change-up morphed into an out pitch.
He was a different pitcher. "I got confidence from my manager and my pitching coach," Kendrick said. "Not that I didn't have it before, but maybe I didn't know it. I had confidence from them. I had confidence from my teammates. I was confident in myself."
Dubee said Kendrick had shown signs of progress but never sustained it. Without security, there was always a fear of demotion. And, Dubee said, Kendrick had not followed the traditional path through the minors.
Kendrick was promoted in 2007 as a 22-year-old with just 12 double-A starts. He threw a sinker and he threw it well. That was all.
"You have to have a full repertoire," Dubee said. "And he didn't have the time to acquire that."
Does he have one now?
"He's come up with a real good change-up, a cutter that is serviceable, and he's learning about what he is capable of doing," Dubee said. "He's a real good starting pitcher."
Does six weeks make a pitcher? Both Kendrick and Dubee said the improvement extends beyond that. Kendrick's numbers during those final 63 innings were aided by a .225 opponents' batting average on balls in play. The league average is .300, and anything below suggests good luck for the pitcher. (Opponents hit .318 on balls in play vs. Kendrick earlier that season.)
Kendrick recently read about free-agent pitcher Kyle Lohse and found similarities in their delayed development.
"I can't say why that is," said Kendrick, whose 2008 World Series ring was stolen and two months later discovered in a Washington swamp. "I don't know why that is." He said his work ethic was the same before as it is now, when the results reflect it.
"Looking back, it probably made me better and tougher mentally," Kendrick said. "Honestly, I wouldn't change a thing."
When Tuesday's workout was over, Kendrick showered and changed into a baby-blue shirt. He drove to meet his wife. They were scheduled to learn whether their second child is a boy or girl. Kendrick's choice of color revealed his preference.
"It's a big day for me," he said.
After all, there is relief in knowing one's place in the world.
Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick got off to a rocky start last year but improved during the season. Here is a look at his progress:
April-March: Two starts, 0-2, 6.59 ERA.
May: Four starts, 1-2, 2.89 ERA.
June: Six starts, 1-4, 6.96 ERA.
July: One start, 2-0, 0.00 ERA.
August: Six starts, 4-1, 2.95 ERA.
Sept./Oct.: Six starts, 3-3, 3.48.
Follow on Twitter @magelb.