PRO BASEBALL / MIKE HISERMAN : Kendrena Starts No Longer but Knows How to Finish
In many ways he is the same Ken Kendrena, still 5-foot-10 with a fastball that tops out at just over 80 m.p.h.
He is, among the tall and mighty who are considered major league pitching prospects, rather frail and ordinary looking.
But Kendrena gets his job done, just as he did in two seasons as a starter for Cal State Northridge.
Kendrena, a 22-year-old right-hander, is 4-0 with two saves for the High Desert Mavericks, the Class-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins. And he was on the mound last week, recording the final out as the Mavericks clinched the first-half championship of the California League’s Southern Division.
Although there was little drama in the moment--the Mavericks led, 15-5, when Kendrena was called to pitch in the ninth inning--Kendrena was typically efficient.
He required only 10 pitches to retire the Riverside Pilots in order.
Only his method of operation has changed.
Kendrena, once as animated as a Disney cartoon, has canned the trademark hop, skip and jump act he perfected at Northridge.
His new delivery, a project undertaken at the advice of Marty DeMerritt, the Mavericks’ pitching coach, is smoother and less taxing on his arm. Kendrena said he broke his old habits by “shadow pitching” until it became more natural.
A 28th-round draft choice a year ago, Kendrena earned his spot with the Mavericks with a strong rookie campaign in the Class-A New York-Penn League last season. He was 5-4 with three saves, 61 strikeouts and 12 walks in 54 2/3 innings.
This spring, Kendrena kept a close eye on a listing of minor leaguers at Florida’s camp. Each day the lists were updated, with several players shifting between High Desert, Class-A Kane County (Ill.) and Class-A Elmira (N.Y.).
“Every day you check it out,” Kendrena said. “It changes. Some guys, all of a sudden they’re not on any list. They’re released.”
An impressive training camp helped land Kendrena with the Marlins’ affiliate in Adelanto, Calif., just west of Victorville.
The Mavericks are second behind only triple-A Edmonton, Canada, in the pecking order of Florida’s minor league system. The expansion Marlins and Colorado Rockies are prohibited from fielding double-A teams in their inaugural seasons.
Kendrena complements his specialty, a split-finger pitch, with a fastball that tails in on a right-handed hitter and a slider.
In 36 innings over 20 appearances, he has 33 strikeouts and 12 walks. However, his earned-run average is 8.25.
“Those numbers aren’t bad until you hit that one that says ERA,” Kendrena said. “The ball flies here.”
The earned runs directly correspond to the home runs he has allowed. Kendrena has served up 10 homers, the most by any Maverick pitcher.
“I’ve made my share of mistakes, and when I do, it gets hit,” Kendrena said. “I don’t get away with too many misses. I have to be persistent getting the ball down in the (strike) zone.”
Against Riverside, Kendrena left two pitches up, but they resulted in fly balls that were caught in deep center field.
Kendrena hoped to pitch against Craig Clayton and Greg Shockey, former Northridge teammates who had been batting second and third in the Riverside order.
No such reunion took place.
Clayton, who was batting .328, was promoted to double-A Jacksonville before the game. Shockey, who was batting .315, left the game in the fifth inning after crashing into the left-field wall while pursuing a two-run double by Tim Claser.
The collision left Shockey hobbling with a bruised right hip.
Quipped Kendrena, a close friend: “I told the guys in the bullpen that he asked out because he heard I was going to pitch.”
Clayton and Shockey were picked to start for the South in the California League All-Star game Tuesday in Stockton.
Clayton, who earned the nod at third base, will miss the game. Shockey missed one game with his injury, but had four hits in his next nine at-bats the following two games. He will start in left field.
Joel Wolfe, who played at Chatsworth High and UCLA, will start in right field for the North. Wolfe, who plays for the Modesto A’s, is batting .352. He also has 40 walks and an on-base percentage of .458.
Among Wolfe’s 76 hits are four home runs and 23 doubles, giving him a slugging percentage of .523.
Mark Skeels was expected to become a full-time catcher for the High Desert Mavericks when Randy Snyder recently was promoted to Edmonton, the Marlins’ triple-A affiliate.
Instead, he has not played at all.
Skeels, a Thousand Oaks High graduate, has been plagued by a viral infection for the past week. He was batting .258 with two home runs and 27 runs batted in while sharing duties with Snyder.