CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Kyle Kendrick needed a couple hours to collect his thoughts that March afternoon in 2009.
The Phillies had optioned him to Minor League camp, which left Chan Ho Park and J.A. Happ battling for the final spot in the Phillies rotation. Kendrick would head to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he would work to improve his secondary pitches before the team would consider bringing him back to the big leagues.
"I'll be back," Kendrick promised that day. "I view myself as a big league pitcher."
It took him a while, but Kendrick, who allowed a run in two innings Tuesday in his Grapefruit League debut against the Yankees at Bright House Field, entered camp this spring guaranteed a spot in the Phillies rotation for the first time since 2008.
It is a spot Kendrick has earned. He went 11-12 with a 3.90 ERA in 37 appearances (25 starts) last season and has a 3.62 ERA in 40 starts over the past two seasons. That is an impressive mark.
There were 109 pitchers with 40 or more starts the previous two seasons. Kendrick's 3.62 ERA ranked 33rd. That is slightly better than Zack Greinke (3.63) and Mark Buehrle (3.66). It is markedly better than former Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton, who signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels despite posting a 4.79 ERA the previous three seasons.
Kendrick's $4.5 million salary this season looks like a bargain.
"The split [change] became a real good pitch for him," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "Of course he's got that great sinker. He's got a very serviceable cutter and slider. He's starting to grasp the idea of how to use them all, and who he is and what he is as a pitcher."
But it might take Kendrick another good season to convince some Phillies fans he has turned the corner. He remains a popular target for boo birds in Philadelphia.
Maybe his 4.96 ERA from 2008-10 remains lodged in their memory banks.
"Maybe, but that's tough if that's the way it is," Kendrick said. "I'm not that same pitcher anymore."
Kendrick, who will not become a free agent until after the 2014 season, is not a top dog in this rotation, but look around baseball and he is a more than serviceable No. 4. If he mirrors the numbers he posted the previous two seasons and gets a little better run support -- he ranked 77th in run support average in that span -- he should help the Phillies win plenty of games.
Kendrick is confident that will happen.
"I felt good after finishing last year," Kendrick said. "I feel good heading into the season. I'm hoping to build off last year, win some games and help us get to the playoffs.
"I'm more confident in myself out there with the stuff I have. More confident as a person in general. It's just growing and learning how to pitch and learning my stuff. I feel comfortable with what I have, my pitches. That's all just maturing and growing and developing."
Kendrick has put in the work. He has tried to emulate Roy Halladay's work ethic, which is one of the strongest in baseball.
Kendrick now spends his offseasons in Florida, so he has been working out at Bright House Field since the middle of October. He arrived several weeks before Halladay, who usually arrives at the team's Spring Training facility around Dec. 1.
"He's got a gym in his house," Kendrick said of Halladay. "I don't have that yet. I would love that."
If he keeps pitching like he has the previous two seasons, he should be able to get a real nice one very soon.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.