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Nationals' Howie Kendrick won’t be ready for Opening Day

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Nationals' Howie Kendrick won’t be ready for Opening Day

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- More sun is coming Howie Kendrick’s way.

The Nationals’ veteran right-handed bench bat is staying in Florida when the team breaks camp Sunday night. Kendrick’s hamstring strain has greatly improved. He’s just not going to be ready for Opening Day in Washington.

“I’m almost there,” Kendrick said. “I think we have quite a few spring days [to work] down here. So I’m not going to break with the team, obviously. I’m going to stay down here and try to get back as soon as possible. I’ve been running, running, running, but I’m not quite there yet.”

Kendrick expects to participate in multiple minor league games to start the week. He’s been running almost full speed in a straight line and lightly running the bases. He’s fielded ground balls, but limited his range while doing so. Kendrick has been swinging throughout.

“As far as the offensive side, I don’t think it’s really going to take long to get there,” Kendrick said. “Especially if I’m [in Florida], 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.

“I think the biggest thing is not wanting to have to go backwards. If I try to come back too soon – and 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 really confident about where I’m at and trusting it a lot more. I trust it now, but I know I’m not 100 percent.”

Going to Washington but not as a starting pitcher is Jeremy Hellickson. He will be a long man out of the bullpen to start the season. Washington has three off days in the first eight days of the season. So, it doesn’t need a fifth starter until April 10 in Philadelphia to close the opening road series against the Phillies. 

“He’s had a really good spring training,” manager Davey Martinez said of Hellickson. “His stuff is really good. He added a little slider, which turned out to be pretty effective.”

The Nationals will open with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez as their rotation. That lines up Sanchez to pitch April 2 in Bryce Harper’s return to Nationals Park. Scherzer will pitch the April 3 day game which completes the quick two-game set with the Phillies. It also means the Nationals have Scherzer and Strasburg lined up to open a three-game series in Philadelphia the following week.

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Patrick Corbin once again carves through San Francisco

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Patrick Corbin once again carves through San Francisco

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the San Francisco Giants, 4-1, Thursday afternoon to move to 9-8. Here are five observations from the game...

1. If there is a reason to sign a pitcher for $140 million, spend a little more than everyone else on him and give an extra year in the contract, it showed up Thursday afternoon.

Patrick Corbin dominated for 7 ⅔ innings in a win against the San Francisco Giants. He did what Stephen Strasburg could not in the series opener: lockdown the National League’s worst offense.

Sean Doolittle worked the ninth. He allowed his first earned run of the season.

The win pushed the Nationals back over. 500 for the first time since April 13. Being one game over .500 ties a season-high. So, there’s that.

The rest of the week offers a path to being well above .500 by the time the Nationals come back to the District on Friday, April 26 to open a three-game series with the upstart San Diego Padres. The Nationals head to Miami for three games this weekend before moving onto Colorado. Combined records for those teams coming into Thursday? 10-27.

“I think now is that time [to get rolling],” Doolittle said. “I think it kind of started with this series. We had a chance to win the series against Pittsburgh. We kind of let it get away, but bouncing back, winning this series, we go on the road and face a couple teams that -- they're not playing their best right now. This is a chance maybe we can strike, win a couple series, come back home...we come back home, we got the Padres and the Cardinals, who are playing really well. This road trip's really important for us.”

2. The Giants continued to be a comfortable matchup for Corbin. They produced just a .439 OPS against him in six games last season. San Francisco struck out 46 times and had just 32 total bases in those six games.

Its offense is worse this year, helping lead to Thursday’s carving of them with back-foot sliders and 90-mph fastballs which appeared to be moving faster. Corbin allowed just two hits, a run, and struck out nine.

“I've faced [Brandon] Belt, I’ve faced [Brandon] Crawford a lot.” Corbin said. “They can do damage on lefties if you stay middle. So you can't take those at-bats off, you’ve got to still go out there and make quality pitches and we were just able to kind of do that throughout the course of the game. Just had a good gameplan, good flow and was able to work out.”

A sinker has also entered Corbin’s pitch mix more frequently.

“We all know at any point and any time, he can throw that slider,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “But it’s one of those things where maybe you guys are starting to notice it more, because his sinker is becoming a true left-handed sinker. He’s getting some good bite on it, good sink on it. And he’s getting some not-so-good swings on it. So we’re just going to keep going to that, knowing he can go to the slider at any time.”

Corbin’s shutdown of San Francisco followed his snuffing out of the Pittsburgh offense April 12. The Pirates scored one run in seven innings, conjured just four hits and struck out 11 times. His last two outings combined: 14 ⅔ innings, six hits, two earned runs, two walks, 20 strikeouts.

The consecutive outings make Corbin the team’s best starting pitcher to this point. His ERA is down to 2.36.

3. Wilmer Difo offense? For a day.

Difo homered, singled and walked, sending his average up to .229.

A sidenote to keep track of is Carter Kieboom in Triple-A Fresno. Kieboom is tearing through the Pacific Coast League. He’s hitting .422 with a 1.247 OPS. More intriguing is Kieboom has played 70 of his 100 innings this season at shortstop. The Nationals initially touted him as splitting time in a more even fashion between shortstop and second base in order to learn the right side of the bag.

He also has not committed an error. It’s hard to take a firm conclusion from that fact because it does not note his range or scoring decisions or simply plays that were not converted. But, it’s better than the alternative.

4. Washington came into the game 18th in MLB in strikeouts. Middle of the pack. Not bad.

Odd about their series with the Giants was the number of times they struck out looking. The Nationals struck out 30 times in the series. Of those, 15 strikeouts were looking.

Recall Nationals manager Davey Martinez was ejected Tuesday because of his irritation with Tony Randazzo’s strike zone. Thursday, numerous Giants and Nationals players were upset by the strike zone of Ryan Additon. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy and left fielder Brandon Belt were both ejected for yelling at Additon.

Most of the called third strikes against Washington on Thursday appeared correct based on Gameday’s charting of location.

5. The schedule prompted another lineup pivot Thursday. Victor Robles was vaulted to the top of the order. Ryan Zimmerman was back at first base and hitting fourth. Michael A. Taylor took Robles’ place in the ninth spot.

The changes gave Adam Eaton his first day off of the season. Robles moved to right field to take his position.

The Nationals are in the midst of 25 games in 26 days following multiple days off to start the season. Such a run couples with Martinez being cognizant of protecting Howie Kendrick from playing too much -- despite his hot start (1.677 OPS in 20 at-bats) and being ranked fourth in exit velocity. He pinch-hit in the eighth inning.

“He's just having good at-bats,” Martinez said. “When he hits the ball, he's hitting the ball really hard. He's just squaring balls up. He's in a good place. It was tough, last night when I was thinking about the lineup, not to have him in there cause he's doing so well. But then again, he just came off a hamstring injury and I got to make sure he's available not just for today but for the whole season. We got to keep him fresh.”

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Why Mike Rizzo is optimistic he'll get a deal done with Anthony Rendon

Why Mike Rizzo is optimistic he'll get a deal done with Anthony Rendon

Nationals manager Mike Rizzo is hopeful that Anthony Rendon will be staying in Washington and that a deal can be done before Rendon becomes a free agent following the 2019 season.

Rizzo joined The Junkies Wednesday morning, one day after NBC Sports Washington's Todd Dybas confirmed reports that the team met with Rendon on Tuesday to talk about his future in Washington. Rendon told Dybas in March that extension talks had come to a halt. 

Rizzo, when speaking on The Junkies, said he was hopeful they would and said the two had had a nice chat about their long history.

We go way back together and we were kind of reminiscing a little bit about where we've been and the next step in our relationship," he said. 

Rizzo has known Rendon since his high school days in Texas, and followed him closely at Rice University before drafting him with the sixth overall pick in the 2011 Major League Baseball draft. 

"We recognize what we have in Anthony, he recognizes what we've meant to him," he said. "Hopefully we can come to some sort of agreement." 

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