Howie Kendrick, the Nationals and everybody inside the ballpark who watched the veteran left fielder crumple to the ground and grab his lower right leg this afternoon knew this probably was a serious injury. By the end of the night, they all knew just how serious: Kendrick needs season-ending surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon.
That diagnosis was announced by manager Davey Martinez minutes after Sean Doolittle blew his first save of the season, leaving the Nationals scarred from a 5-4 loss to the Dodgers only hours after Kendrick was injured in the eighth inning of the Nats’ 4-1 loss in the opener of today’s doubleheader.
“It stinks,” Martinez said. “Howie’s a big part of our offense, and our team. So I want to wish him well.”
Kendrick, standing in the clubhouse with a boot on his right leg and crutches under each arm, was demoralized by the news but adamant he will return from this major injury next season. He expects to undergo surgery on Monday.
“I always try to look at everything on the bright side,” the 34-year-old said. “I’m always positive. And even though this sucks, I got to find something to do. There’s no point in being mopey about it. It won’t heal as fast. The happier I am, the faster I’ll heal. So hopefully I’ll get this out of the way.”
Kendrick said he didn’t step on anything out of the ordinary as he went back to catch Max Muncy’s deep flyball in the top of the eighth this afternoon. He thinks the rupture happened on his first step on the warning track, though it wasn’t until after he took several more steps, caught the ball and then planted his right foot to throw the ball back to the infield that he realized just how bad it was.
“At the time, I just threw the ball back in, and once I tried to put weight on it, I couldn’t put any weight on it, really,” he said. “I was like: ‘Oh crap, I better just sit down.’ That’s when I really knew something was wrong with it, because I couldn’t control my heel at all. So that’s when I knew it had to be my Achilles.”
Though he was re-signed over the winter to serve as a key bench player and back up at both second base and left field, Kendrick had been forced into everyday duties with both Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton on the disabled list. He started 37 of the team’s first 45 games and among the regulars leads the club with a .303 batting average to go along with four homers, 12 RBIs and an .805 OPS.
Now the Nationals have to find a way to replace not only his production but also his leadership.
They won’t be able to replace the latter with the player they are calling up to take his roster spot, but they hope they can get that kind of production and maybe even more when top prospect Juan Soto makes his major league debut Sunday.
Martinez wouldn’t confirm Soto’s pending promotion from Double-A Harrisburg, but MASNsports.com’s Byron Kerr reported the transaction this evening. The 19-year-old slugger, who opened the season at low-Single-A Hagerstown and already had been promoted twice up the organizational ladder, will get the ultimate promotion after batting a combined .362 with 14 homers, 52 RBIs and a 1.218 OPS in 39 total games.