WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Howie Kendrick stated this months ago: He’ll be ready for spring training.
He said it toward the end of last season. Kendrick was walking gently at that point, just a few months out from a surgery to repair his torn Achilles tendon. On May 19, Kendrick was on the seat of his white pants on the warning track. He no longer had control of his foot. Kendrick knew the year was over.
Various members of the Nationals would mention him the rest of the season. Davey Martinez always added Kendrick if someone rattled off the list of injured players and forgot to include the 35-year-old. Mike Rizzo brought it up in public and private. Gone was a veteran who could play two infield positions and left field, as well as handle any situational hitting in his 13th season. Gone was a veteran who would use directness in the clubhouse when necessary. Both became factors in a middling season.
“When Howie was available and playing every day, he was doing really well,” Martinez said. “I could hit him anywhere in the lineup — at second, at first, at outfield. He was doing really well. But, what people don’t realize, is Howie in that clubhouse is the constant. He’s the guy where if he thinks something is not right, or you didn’t do this, you didn’t do that, he’d be the guy to say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to be the guy to run the balls out. Let’s go.’ Or if he’d see somebody down, he pats them on the back.’ C’mon, man. Let’s go. We’ll get this done.’ But he was that constant guy.”
Kendrick’s back now, like he said he would be, taking ground balls at second base along with newly signed Brian Dozier during the Nationals’ first full squad workout of spring training Tuesday. Kendrick worked in Arizona last season and in the offseason to get to this point. He followed protocols from the Nationals’ medical staff and his personal trainer, helping Kendrick evolve from scooter-dependent to walking slowly to running to sprinting. Once in West Palm Beach, he was unrestricted, as promised.
“Everything has been good,” Kendrick said. “I told them last year when I left, I told them my goal is to be ready for day one of spring training, and I’ve been running for about three weeks now, sprinting and stuff, simulating running the bases and things like that.”
Rizzo entered the offseason by saying the team was comfortable with a platoon of Wilmer Difo and Kendrick at second base. He later signed Dozier to a one-year deal, chasing the pop of his bat and expecting a bounce back season. Dozier is right next to Kendrick in the clubhouse. The move pleased Kendrick. It could have irritated him because of its clear influence on his playing time.
“We’re trying to win ball games, I don’t really think about it,” Kendrick said. “I know Brian, I played against him over in the AL. He’s a great player, great defender, a lot of power, you know I’m excited to have him here. My role on this team hasn’t changed, I’m going to play everywhere like I did in the previous couple years, and you know I look at it like that. The at-bats I get are the at-bats I get, I’m not here to complain about anything, I’m here to play baseball, try to help guys get better and try to win ball games.
“At the end of the day I think that’s really important. As far as Dozier, he’s the second baseman. Guy can play.”
Kendrick’s time in the game is dwindling. He’s coming off major surgery. The market for 36-year-old second baseman/outfielders is extremely limited. If others value what Martinez and Rizzo do, maybe Kendrick finds another contract, which prevents him from graduating to full-time coach status for his kids. In the interim, he’s healthy in West Palm Beach.