Re-watching the Nationals' playoff run gives fans the opportunity to see Howie Kendrick bounce back from a rough start to October baseball and turn into one of the biggest heroes. Kendrick's grand slam against the Dodgers and later the foul pole-clanging two-run shot against the Astros will go down as two of the most clutch hits in Nats postseason history.
Kendrick kept on going to begin 2020 spring training, slashing .318/.375/.318 during 10 games. In the 2019 postseason, the 36-year-old hit .286 with four doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs in 17 games. His 12 RBIs were third-most during the title run for the Nats, behind Anthony Rendon (15) and Juan Soto (14). Adam Eaton contributed 10 RBIs. That quartet combined to crush 12 homers with 51 RBIs in leading the Nats to their first World Series championship. The rest of the team combined to hit seven homers with 24 RBIs.
Kendrick re-signed on Dec. 10. Back at spring training, he kept on hitting. The 14-year veteran also provided an invaluable mentoring aspect on hitting in the big leagues for the young prospects in camp.
"Howie is a true pro," said Nationals hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich. "Howie is a baseball guy. He's done it for a long time. He's been successful. It's funny, the older he gets, he continues to get better and better in how he goes about his work to get himself prepared to play.
"He also has the ability to talk to the younger kids and help them out, too. He knows he's getting towards the end of his career, and (is looking) to help win another World Series. To get the things that he wants to do he knows he's got to help the younger guys because it's a team sport. He knows how to do it."
Gingrich described the positive vibe in spring training coming off the Nats' dramatic World Series win. He said the camaraderie of the club was evident last March before the first regular season game and eventual roller coaster title surge. Kendrick was a major part of that unbelievable story. One reason for his success in the box was game-planning each at-bat. Gingrich said the 2011 All-Star emphasized to Nationals hitters about strategy, preparation and the mental side of his hitting approach that laid the ground work to make him into an elite batter.
"Even last year, before we won it, you could see how everybody on that team all they did was pull for each other, tried to help each other," Gingrich said. "Howie doesn't hop in the cage talking swings, but he will talk about situations. The ... mental side of the game.
"What he does to get prepared for who they are facing the next day. Less of the mechanics (teaching) part probably, but he will talk more about the mental side of the game - how to play every day, how to get your body in shape to play every day. How to prepare for who you are facing today to the next day to who's coming in (from the bullpen). Or when he's had success against a pitcher what he looks for."
Did Gingrich have an example of Nats player of the past that would get into the cage and break down swings for his teammates? There was one that came to mind, and it is probably the same example you thought of, too.
"Most players I've been around really don't teach the mechanics of the swing," Gingrich said." The only one I ever really remember trying to teach mechanics or that thought process was Daniel Murphy when he was here (2016-2018). He would talk more mechanics with players.
"They might say, 'Hey, this is what I saw you doing and it was really good and this is a little bit different now (in your swing).' That might be as far as it kind of goes. They leave that to the coaches."
Kendrick will be critical to this season's lineup as protection for Soto. But his value to the Nats also is important to the younger crew just learning their craft.
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