Despite being flanked by the likes of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the Phillies' rotation, Kyle Kendrick has made a name for himself as a vital cog for Philadelphia.
True, the 28-year-old started the season in the Phils' bullpen, but Joe Blanton's trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers earned Kendrick a chance to earn his stripes as a starter.
Kendrick had dazzled as a reliever, but he struggled mightily in his first appearances as a starter this season.
Kendrick faced plenty of backlash from fans and the media alike, all of whom questioned his abilities as a starter when prospect Tyler Cloyd -- who was 15-1 at Triple-A Lehigh Valley -- could've easily been inserted into the rotation.
But Kendrick has finally found his groove. In August, he posted a 2.95 ERA and a 4-1 record. And since the All-Star break, Kendrick has gone 6-1 with a 2.42 ERA.
Why so successful?
"I don't think it's just one thing," Kendrick said. "I think it's just me being aggressive, getting ahead of the hitters, throwing strikes. Trusting my stuff, that's the main thing -- trusting all of my pitches and being aggressive."
Kendrick has had to bounce between the bullpen and rotation, in 2011 as well as this year. He said routine is the key difference between the two positions.
"The main thing is just preparation. I think in the bullpen, your routine is a lot different from when you're a starter," he said. "When [you're] in the bullpen, you lift [weights] after the games. You come to the field and do some running, but you don't work out as hard as when you're starting. When you're starting, you have something you do every day. Lifting legs one day, upper body one day, you have a bullpen."
But Kendrick will take starting over relieving any day.
"There's something about starting and going seven innings rather than pitching one inning. If I had to pick one, I'd definitely pick starting," he said. "I think it's more of a challenge going through a lineup three or four times a game, than facing one or two guys in the bullpen."
Kendrick admits that he's changed drastically as a player.
For starters, he hasn't always been a pitcher. He was a shortstop in high school. What happened to convert him to pitching?
"I couldn't hit, really," Kendrick laughed. "That's what happened. I pitched when I was drafted."
But he wasn't the same pitcher then that he is now.
"When I first got drafted [in the seventh round of the 2003 Draft], I was a different pitcher. I threw a four-seam, a little curveball. Now it's totally different," he noted. "I had to get better, so I developed a changeup, a cutter, a slider, a sinker. It took awhile, and I'm still trying to get better every day."
Tuesday, Kendrick (who is 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA and 16 strikeouts in his past three starts) will be attempting to do just that, taking the ball against the Reds' Mat Latos at Great American Ball Park.
He'll have already done his homework by looking at the Reds batters on film.
"[I'll] look at hitters who have faced pitchers similar to me, watch their swings at different pitches, what they do with two strikes, are they aggressive early in the count, things like that and try to pick up on those things for certain guys," Kendrick said.
"It's a night game, so I'll get here around 4 [p.m.]," Kendrick said. "Eat a sandwich, eat a banana ... get my arm stretched, ride the bike, stretch my legs. I'll go out about 6:30 and stretch out, long toss, throw my bullpen [session]."
"And then," Kendrick declared, "it's game time."
Megan Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest who earned the job of youth correspondent in 2011, is a reporter for MLB.com.