Unable to play every day, Kendrick making most of chances

Howie Kendrick is the best hitter on the Nationals roster not named Anthony Rendon. And he’s not too far removed from the National League MVP candidate.

After a three-hit, three-RBI performance during Sunday’s 7-0 win over the Braves, Kendrick owns a .336 batting average and .945 OPS. He has 15 homers and 60 RBIs. All this while receiving only 337 plate appearances, only slightly more than half as many as Rendon has logged.

Kendrick-Swing-Gray-Sidebar.jpgSo why isn’t Kendrick playing more? It’s been a common refrain from Nationals fans all summer long. But it comes with a simple answer: He physically can’t play much more than he already is playing.

“I know I’m not an everyday guy anymore,” the 36-year-old utility man admitted Sunday.

After rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2018 and straining his hamstring twice this season, Kendrick’s legs simply aren’t what they used to be. It takes a lot of work and treatment to get himself physically ready to play one ballgame. It has become much more difficult to get himself physically ready to play multiple ballgames in a row.

With that in mind, Davey Martinez and his coaching staff have been especially careful with Kendrick’s playing time all season, spacing out his starts and making sure he’s at least available to pinch-hit on a daily basis.

“I’m not going to complain one bit about the way I’ve been used,” Kendrick said. “When I play, I play. When I don’t, I’m ready to play and go in the game. And I’ve kind of streamlined that process a little more. I’ve figured out, being in the National League, how to prepare myself and be ready.”

Kendrick’s at-bats may not be coming as frequently as they used to, but his productive at-bats are coming far more regularly than they ever have during what already was an impressive career prior to this season. He’s making the most of his playing time, delivering clutch hit after clutch hit. If he had the same number of plate appearances as Rendon, he’d have 26 homers and 105 RBIs. He’d also be contending for the league’s batting title.

“It’s very, very impressive, the way he’s able to go out there and not be an everyday player, not necessarily because of his ability but because, physically, it’s hard and demanding, so he’s unable to play every day,” 22-year-old center fielder Victor Robles said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “But the fact that he’s a bench player and comes off the bench and is able to keep his timing, his at-bats are just so impressive. It’s amazing. He’s just a tremendous ballplayer.”

Kendrick isn’t taking any of this for granted. Given the major injury he suffered last season, he knows how fortunate he was to be on a two-year deal with the Nationals, ensuring his return this season.

“Rupturing my Achilles last year, if that was the last year of my deal, I don’t know if I would have been in the major leagues this year,” he said. “Because a lot of times, the way the league is now, bringing veteran guys back and being around the game, you don’t see too many veteran guys around anymore. Having the ability to come back to a place where I really enjoy and get to be around these guys and have fun ... it’s been cool to be able to see these guys grow. And they’ve helped me out, too, with my game. So it’s been fun.”

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