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Kendrick shines in first start of 2009

Kendrick shines in first start of '09

PHILADELPHIA -- It has been a long road back for Kyle Kendrick.

But he stepped onto the mound Sunday at Citizens Bank Park with the confidence and composure he had in 2007, when he pitched so well that he started Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Rockies.

"I think I've done a little growing mentally," Kendrick said following a 5-4 victory over the Mets in Game 1 of a doubleheader. "I'm not letting things worry me. If I give up a base hit, 'OK, get a ground ball here.' Last year, when I was going bad, stuff bothered me. But this year, you know you're one pitch away from getting a ground ball."

Kendrick got 15 groundouts in 7 1/3 innings. He allowed seven hits, two runs and just one walk. He had three strikeouts, all of them coming in the first inning. Kendrick, who was booed by Phillies fans last season, got an ovation as he left the game in the eighth.

"It felt good," he said. "I really enjoyed that. That was fun. The Philly fans were hard on me with struggling last year. To get that today was pretty special."

Brad Lidge allowed two runs in the ninth, but he picked up the save. Kendrick got support offensively from Ryan Howard, who scored Chase Utley from first with a two-out double in the first; Ben Francisco, who hit a solo homer in the fourth; Shane Victorino, who hit a two-run homer in the fifth; and pinch-hitter Andy Tracy, whose single scored pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett in the eighth.

Kendrick won 21 games his first two seasons with Philadelphia, but he spent almost the entire 2009 season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

He joined the Phillies' rotation from Double-A Reading in 2007 when Freddy Garcia got hurt. Kendrick went 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA. He led NL rookies in wins and ranked third in ERA. He pitched in Game 2 of the NLDS -- the franchise's first trip to the playoffs since 1993.

Colorado swept Philadelphia, but the club hoped for more good things from Kendrick in the future.

But the hurler found 2008 much more difficult. Hitters adjusted to the fact that he basically only threw his sinker and couldn't throw his secondary pitches for strikes, and they made him pay. He went 11-9 with a 5.49 ERA. The Phillies bumped him from the rotation Sept. 9, 2008, when he allowed six hits and seven runs in just 1 1/3 innings in a loss to the Marlins.

Kendrick did not make the 2008 postseason roster. He recalled being in Clearwater, Fla., during the 2009 NLDS against the Brewers. The organization asked him to go to Florida to keep his arm in shape in case a pitcher suffered an injury. He remembered watching the Phils celebrate their NLDS victory from his hotel room.

"That was probably rock bottom," Kendrick said. "That was pretty bad. Sitting in the hotel by myself. I was upset. I was real upset. It wasn't fun. I wanted to be there so bad. That's when I knew I had to do something. I had to get back."

Kendrick had hopes to make the 2009 rotation, but he got sent to Minor League camp before the end of Spring Training. The Phillies told him to work on his secondary pitches, particularly his changeup. Kendrick went 9-7 with a 3.34 ERA in 24 starts for the IronPigs. He allowed three earned runs or fewer in 19 of those starts.

He threw 106 pitches Sunday, and 16 were changeups.

"He mixed his pitches good. He kept the ball down good," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He did a heck of a job. I've seen a difference in Kendrick. He threw some cutters and guys popped up. He threw his changeup. Although he was starting to get his changeup high out of the strike zone, he used it. Using his secondary stuff, he is [different than the past two seasons]."

Sunday might be Kendrick's only start in 2009, but he hopes there are more in the future. Philadelphia is expected to have Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ in the '10 rotation. Jamie Moyer is signed through next season, although he has been demoted to the bullpen. Pedro Martinez has pitched well, although he will be a free agent.

If there is a spot available, Kendrick would like to get it.

He took a step forward Sunday.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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