Kendrick nearly ready, but not for opening day

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Howie Kendrick, as expected, will stay back in Florida while the rest of the Nationals break camp this evening and open the season on the injured list while finishing his rehab from a hamstring strain suffered earlier this month.

Kendrick has been taking batting practice and grounders while lightly running the bases in recent days but hasn’t yet appeared in a game. He plans to get into minor league games within a few days, then get himself ready to join the active roster.

“I trust it now, but I know I’m not 100 percent,” the veteran utilityman said. “So there’s no point for me to try to be there for opening day when I know I could risk injuring myself again. I don’t think that’s a good thing for me or the team. When I come back, I want to be back, so I can do my best to help us win ballgames and be a part of the team.”

Kendrick, who already was making his return from a far more severe ruptured Achilles tendon in his right heel, strained his left hamstring running down the first base line March 5. Nationals manager Davey Martinez expressed hope the 35-year-old could make it back in time for the season opener 23 days later, but that was probably too optimistic an outlook.

“He’s doing way better,” Martinez said. “He feels good about himself. And I told him: ‘You need your at-bats.’ I’ve explained to these guys, time and time out, when you get hurt like that you need some spring training. You need to go get at-bats. The good thing is, they are going to have games here and they are going to play a lot, and he can just play as much as he wants.”

howie-kendrick-white-sidebar bat.jpgKendrick said he has been taking batting practice throughout the rehab process. He has been more careful about not pushing his hamstring too hard when fielding grounders or running. He’s about ready to start pushing it.

“As far as the offensive side, I don’t think it’s really going to take long to get there,” he said. “Especially if I’m here, I can get at-bats every inning pretty much. I think the biggest thing is trying to feel good running and things like that. That’s what’s most important. The bat will come around. That’s just timing.”

With Kendrick and outfielder Michael A. Taylor (sprained left knee and hip) set to open the season on the IL, the Nationals’ bench will have a bit of a different look for the short-term. Andrew Stevenson is all but certain to make the club, filling Taylor’s role as the fourth outfielder. The club needs to decide whether to fill Kendrick’s open spot with another bench player (infielders Adrián Sanchez and Jake Noll are the only other position players left in big league camp) or an extra reliever (potentially keeping both Wander Suero and Austen Williams).

No matter how the team decides to assemble the 25-man roster for opening day, it’s almost certain to undergo more changes early in the season, with Kendrick’s debut not expected to be delayed much.

“I think the biggest thing is not wanting to have to go backwards,” Kendrick said. “I’ve done my hamstrings before, and I’ve been hard-headed about it where I’ve hurt it again later and you’re out more time. So I think the biggest thing is trying to feel great and free really confident about where I’m at and trusting it a lot more.”

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