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Howie Kendrick overcame career-threatening injury. Now he’s a playoff hero

Howie Kendrick overcame career-threatening injury. Now he’s a playoff hero

Howie Kendrick lay in a heap on the outfield grass at Nationals Park, a grimace creasing his face. 
 
The diagnosis: A torn right Achilles tendon. During an otherwise nondescript first game of a doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 19, 2018, just eight weeks before his 35th birthday, Kendrick’s career was suddenly in question. 
 
Seventeen months later, Kendrick had one of the great days of his career on Monday night. And this is a man who just last week hit a grand slam to secure a National League Division series upset over the Dodgers. 
 
For the first time since 2008, back when he was a third-year, part-time player for the Los Angeles Angels, Kendrick hit three doubles in a game. That outburst helped put the Nationals one win away from the World Series in an 8-1 victory that gave them a 3-0 series lead in the National League Championship Series. 
 
“I guess some of the best things come from the unexpected moments,” Kendrick said. 
 
A two-out double in the third inning gave Washington a 4-0 lead. With two out in the fifth, Kendrick did it again. That one drove home Anthony Rendon to make it 5-0. Kendrick scored the sixth run when Ryan Zimmerman followed with a double. One more two-out double in the seventh inning set the stage for yet another Zimmerman double and Kendrick’s run made it 8-1. 
 
Maybe this should be no surprise. Kendrick has always been able to hit. He batted .344 in 121 games this season. Now 36, Kendrick allows that he can’t play every day. So Washington manager Davey Martinez used him a few times a week. Kendrick started 70 games - 35 at first base, 18 at second base and another 10 at third with seven games in American League ballparks as the designated hitter. He came off the bench 51 more times. 
 
It all helped keep Kendrick fresh and, other than a 10-day stint on the Injured List at the beginning of August with a hamstring strain, it kept him healthy, too. 
 
“He wants it, and the rest of his teammates feed off of that, and they see it,” Martinez said. “We're all big fans of Howie. Every one of us in that clubhouse, and what he does on the field, off the field. He's been that quiet leader for us all year long.”
 
Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle remembers their battles in the late innings of A.L. West games when he pitched for the Oakland A’s and Kendrick was still with the Angels. Almost every at bat became a war of attrition. You might get Kendrick out. Most of the time he took a piece of you with him back to the bench. 
 
“I saw more than enough of him when he was in Anaheim and I was in Oakland. He just grinds out at bats. He doesn’t give you anything,” Doolittle said. “He’s added length to this lineup hitting in that five, six spot. People think once they navigate [Anthony] Rendon and [Juan] Soto…I don’t know if they overlook him a little bit, but it’s almost like they let their guard down and he gets them.”  
 
Kendrick is a Swiss army knife. He can platoon at first base, he fills in at second and third. Martinez chose not to risk him in the outfield this season, where his legs would take an unnecessary pounding. But late in games, he was a weapon off the bench and a nightmare matchup for opposing managers with 13 pinch hits in 36 at bats (.361). And his teammates loved that Kendrick embraced that role. 
 
Because he had signed a two-year contract with Washington before the 2018 season, Kendrick was shielded from the harsh realities of free agency for a soon-to-be 36-year-old coming off an Achilles tear. The Nationals saw how well Kendrick’s rehab was progressing. They were hopeful they’d have his unique skill set back for 2019. But no one knew for sure.  
 
“That was really scary when that happened,” Doolittle said. “But the dude is a beast man.”
 
Added teammate Adam Eaton: “It’s an Achilles and he’s 30-whatever years old. There’s definitely always a question mark. But if you know Howie and you’re around him, you know he’s one of the hardest workers. He’s dedicated. He knows his body really well and it shows. It’s unbelievable how he’s been able to come back and produce so effectively.”
 
Kendrick worked on his swing throughout the offseason with Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long. They both live in the Phoenix area and the first time Kendrick met Long he was handed a sheet of paper with ideas for how he could develop a more efficient swing. That was unexpected, but welcome. 
 
Kendrick gave former manager Dusty Baker some thanks, too. All that work continued into the 2018 season with Long and Washington assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon, but the injury ruined a good start to the season. 
 
It’s a testament to just how much Washington relies on Kendrick that before his grand slam against the Dodgers he was taking heat maybe for the first time all year. Kendrick had 5 hits in his first 22 playoff at-bats with just one RBI and all his hits were singles. He’d also made three errors in the field at first and second base. 
 
All of that changed with the Game 5 NLDS grand slam that will make him a legend in the District forever. He is 5-for-12 against the Cardinals with four doubles and four RBI in just three games. He and his teammates are one win away from an N.L. pennant. Howie Kendrick is absorbing the moment.  
 
“I enjoy it all because without all the mistakes and all the hardships and all the successes earlier in my career, none of this would be available,” Kendrick said. “None of this would be possible without all that. I talk with Max [Scherzer] quite a bit, and we're like, man, don't you wish you could go back and be how you are now then? And he goes, no, I wouldn't change it because all those failures are helping you with the success now. And I think that's the way I look at it. Even now my failures still help me be successful. You appreciate it even more.” 

 

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Nationals, Sánchez blasted by Orioles in another mediocre performance

Nationals, Sánchez blasted by Orioles in another mediocre performance

WASHINGTON --  The Nationals are 4-6 following a Friday night drubbing by the Baltimore Orioles, a team not expected to be remotely good in 2020.

The season’s fluctuations are under way. The Nationals went 1-4, looked listless and were charged with not having fun. They won three in a row to complete the push for an even record. They lost Max Scherzer and two games since. Friday night was particularly abhorrent. They were smacked 11-0 by an Orioles team which had 19 hits. It could have been worse.

“This is just one of those games where you’ve got to put it behind you as quick as you can and come back tomorrow and regroup and go get ‘em tomorrow,” Davey Martinez said. “This game was about as lopsided as I’ve seen in a long time.”

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Aníbal Sánchez has problems. His ERA is 7.84. It, like the Friday night score, could be worse.

He shrugged off his poor start to open the season. Sánchez was more irritated Friday -- back on the mound 12 days after the first time. When he walked Renato Núñez on a 3-2 pitch which wasn’t close to a strike, he yelled, then left the mound to pace. Pitching coach Paul Menhart came to visit.

Recall last year. Sánchez opened with a 5.91 ERA across April and May. He was much better in the following two months, righting his season and helping the Nationals from their malaise. But time for a course correction this season is limited.

“I think the situation that happened last year was [me] out of routine,” Sánchez said. “This is only something you have to handle no matter what. … This is going to happen this year early in the season. I think when you’re out of routine, it’s really hard to see what’s going on. Right now I can see the difference between the games with fans and no fans and all the kinds of things. A little bit something in your mind. At the end, I think I need to figure out how to control my game in all those situations.”

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Sánchez has made 16.7 percent of his starts (and the team is through the same amount of its season). Only nine remain. Reacting to two starts in normal times is not recommended. However, these are not normal times. Much like the offense -- which failed to score for the first time this season -- Sánchez needs to quickly gather himself. However, Trea Turner doesn’t feel the squeeze is on them yet.

“If we do, it’s just going to snowball on us,” Turner said. “There’s no point to. I think it’s more perspective -- more teams are in the playoffs this year, so you’ve got more room for error. More opportunities to make up ground. That being said, it is a shorter season. We need to take advantage of every game because we’re playing some good ball clubs. They kicked our butts [Friday]. Got to be ready each and every day.”

The Nationals play two more games during the weekend against Baltimore. Austin Voth starts Saturday, Stephen Strasburg returns Sunday. Friday opened a 13-games in 13 days stretch after the jumbled beginning of days off and postponements. Martinez said they were happy to finally be starting what a season traditionally feels like. Day after day, game after game. Time and geography lost to the rhythm of playing.

But, the Nationals entered the game 29th in Major League Baseball in runs, then failed to score. The only team to score fewer is the coronavirus-riddled St. Louis Cardinals who have played five games this season. Their starting staff is yet to anchor them. The bullpen has an injury to its most important offseason signing and Sean Doolittle is ineffective. Fixable problems, but problems to be sure.

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Phillie Phanatic returns favor to Bryce Harper with custom jacket

Phillie Phanatic returns favor to Bryce Harper with custom jacket

Despite only being in year two of his 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, Bryce Harper's love for the Phillie Phanatic is well-known.  

On Friday, the team mascot returned the favor by showing some love to Bryce Harper with his new custom suit jacket.

Let’s all take a walk down memory lane since it is #FlashbackFriday and relive the moment when Bryce Harper took his love for Phanatic to the next level on Opening Day with this look: a custom olive-colored suit with pictures of team mascot Phanatic scattered throughout the inside. 

This is just a reminder to find someone who loves you as much as the Phanatic loves Bryce. Or vice versa. A bromance like no other.

Now if the Phillies are smart, they’ll make these suits available for the fans. If they do, there'll be no competition for the best-dressed fan base in the future.

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