There were several moments late in Wednesday night’s game at Nationals Park that seemed to be screaming for Howie Kendrick to grab a bat and step to the plate.
The veteran infielder was scratched from the Nationals’ original lineup against the Blue Jays due to upper back stiffness, but in announcing that change several hours before game time the club also stated he would be available to pinch-hit.
Kendrick, though, never was seen in the dugout during the game. And despite situations that seemed tailor-made for him - multiple runners on base in a scoreless game in both the eighth and 10th innings, manager Davey Martinez never summoned him.
It all worked out in the end; the Nationals rallied to score four runs in the top of the 10th and won 4-0. But at the end of the night, it was fair to ask if Kendrick actually was available. Martinez sidestepped that question but suggested the odds of it happening were quite slim.
“He’s going to be day-to-day,” Martinez said. “He’s got upper back tightness. He couldn’t get loose. I tried to wait as long as I could, but I finally had to make a decision. I told him, ‘If you’re available to pinch-hit, great.’ I’m glad we didn’t have to use him. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
With four days off coming up over the weekend, Martinez might be tempted to just keep Kendrick sidelined again for the series finale against the Blue Jays. Besides, it’s not like he’s turning to his bench much to begin with.
Six games into the season, the Nationals have yet to use a single pinch-hitter. It sounds impossible to believe, but the addition of the DH in National League games this year has completely altered Martinez’s late-game decision process.
With no pitcher batting, the most common opportunities for pinch-hitters are nonexistent. And though there have been some spots - with inexperienced hitters such as Andrew Stevenson or Carter Kieboom at the plate - where it might have been tempting, Martinez has stuck with his starters and stayed away from a bench that on Wednesday also included veteran Josh Harrison, outfielder Michael A. Taylor, infielders Emilio Bonifácio and Wilmer Difo, plus catcher Yan Gomes.
It does make you wonder if the expanded 30-man roster is even necessary right now, though Martinez believes it is and even favors a proposal to keep the roster at 30 longer than the two weeks originally planned by Major League Baseball.
“Yeah, at this point, definitely. At least for a while,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of injuries on players. So keeping these guys healthy - and I’ve said this all along - is going to be a big key. Having extra players here is awesome. Hopefully, they agree upon that. I’d like to keep it, just for health issues.”