Howie Kendrick

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Howie Kendrick's clutch, drive and… dance return after first homer of 2020

Howie Kendrick's clutch, drive and… dance return after first homer of 2020

Entering play Tuesday, the last time Howie Kendrick hit a home run was Game 7 of the World Series.

That changed in the second inning against the Mets, when Kendrick launched a no-doubter 414 feet into the seats in left-center field to put the Nationals up 1-0 in the second inning.

When he got back to the dugout, Kendrick was greeted by his teammates ready to host a dance party and celebrate his homer. Kendrick walked down the steps before greeting his fellow Nationals with, well, this…

We’re not sure what that was, but normalcy returned when he joined outfielder Adam Eaton on the bench for their “clutch and drive” celebration.

At least 2020 hasn’t taken that away yet.

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Nationals Scene & Heard: Howie Kendrick back in the mix

Nationals Scene & Heard: Howie Kendrick back in the mix

WASHINGTON -- Davey Martinez and Mike Rizzo stopped by Howie Kendrick’s place with a special gift while he was in isolation.

They came with his World Series ring, a special hand delivery necessitated by Kendrick’s 14-day quarantine stay as part of the District’s contact tracing protocol.

He still thinks about last year, the big moments, the grand slam in Los Angeles and the World Series home run off the foul pole. Talking about it, smiling about, reminiscing has not become old for Kendrick.

“Being a world champion, that’s a dream come true,” Kendrick said. “I relive those moments all the time. I run into people, I talk to a lot of friends, it’s cool to hear the stories. I still get goosebumps and chills to this day."

Being stuck in his house for two weeks? That’s less fun.

“Obviously it was a little boring,” Kendrick said. “I have a little golf putting mat. I had a net to hit into, so I was hitting while I was at home still. With Netflix nowadays, you can pretty much kill a lot of time. I was doing a lot of pushups.”

RELATED: NATS NEED TO DETERMINE HOW MUCH TO PUSH KENDRICK, SOTO

It’s unclear if Kendrick dropped for 20 if he missed a putt or in between episodes of Peaky Blinders. But, his process to stay ready fell under the same piecemeal approach others have put together.

Kendrick participated in just two intrasquad games to this point since he had to wait until Thursday to return. He will be in the lineup Saturday for the Nationals’ first exhibition game. He also expects to be ready for the July 23 opener, even if he is not really ready. Got that?

“I’ll be ready -- whether I am or not,” Kendrick said. “I’ll be ready.”

To get there, he wants to continue working on his timing. It was better Friday in Day Two than Day One -- when Kendrick hit a line-drive single to center field in his first at-bat. And, Kendrick worked as the designated hitter both days.

He’s done it before, though not often. Kendrick made just 24 starts at designated hitter for Anaheim during his nine years in the American League.

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Kendrick’s presence there this season shows the depth the Nationals can deploy. Friday’s lineup looked like this:

Trea Turner
Adam Eaton (L)
Starlin Castro
Juan Soto (L)
Howie Kendrick
Eric Thames (L)
Asdrúbal Cabrera (S)
Kurt Suzuki

And, when Victor Robles returns, he can again hit ninth. Everyone in that lineup hit at least 15 home runs last season.

-- Left-handed reliever Roenis Elías was placed on the 10-day injured list July 14 for an undisclosed reason. Friday, he was in the outfield throwing long toss. Davey Martinez said Elías has been cleared to start working out and may throw a live session Sunday against hitters. His injury, and the Nationals releasing Fernando Abad on Friday because he had an opt-out which kicked in Saturday, gives left-hander Sam Freeman a good chance to make the initial 30-man active roster.

-- Soto and Kendrick were back to work Friday following their first workouts with the team Thursday. Neither played the field. Martinez said both felt good, asked to play the field and will be in the lineup to start Saturday’s exhibition game.

“We only got three games against different teams, so we’ve got to get them out there,” Martinez said.

-- Sean Doolittle has lowered his leg kick. Instead of his right knee pulled high toward his chest, it’s stopping closer to his waist.

“Something he worked on during the break,” Martinez said. “It’s a little quicker, a little different. It seems like his arm action is catching up a little better. Not fighting himself as much. So far, so good.”

The point? To speed up his delivery time to the plate and alter his release point.

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Nationals need to determine how much to push Juan Soto, Howie Kendrick

Nationals need to determine how much to push Juan Soto, Howie Kendrick

WASHINGTON -- Video boards around the clubhouse had a simple message for Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick on Thursday: “Welcome back.”

Kendrick and Soto joined the Nationals on the field for the first time since Summer Camp workouts began July 3. Both were in quarantine for two weeks as part of the District’s coronavirus protocol.

“First and foremost, I’m super happy that they’re back,” Davey Martinez said. “They’re happy to be back. It’s nice to put them in the lineup. I talked to both of them and told them we’re going to have to push a little bit, but you’re going to have to be honest with me and tell me where you feel you’re at. Try to get you as many at-bats as we can the next four or five days. But they have to be honest with me.”

Baseball players are not prone to honesty. They often lie about how they feel so they can play. Their reasons for doing so range from manic competitiveness to job security. In this case, a strange 60-game season across the next two-plus months, Soto and Kendrick are expected forthcoming with Martinez. He thinks they will be.

RELATED: HERE'S HOW MLB WILL EXPERIMENT WITH CROWD NOISE AT NATIONALS GAMES

“At this point, I know they’ll both be honest with me,” Martinez said. “Juan, he told me exactly when he wanted to come out of the outfield. He said I just wanted to see some pitches and get some at-bats.”

Both ended up with six at-bats Thursday after telling Martinez they would like one more, then another and so on. He was ready to remove them after two at-bats.

Soto played four innings in the field. Kendrick was the designated hitter.

Saturday is the Nationals’ first exhibition game. Martinez expects both Kendrick and Soto to be somewhat sore Friday when the team runs a bullpen game in the late afternoon. He’s hopeful they can be ready for the season opener in a week against the New York Yankees on July 23.

“Both want to play,” Martinez said. “We’ll see where you’re at come Monday or Tuesday next week and we’ll go from there.”
The Nationals’ manager is wary of two things. One is an oblique injury from resuming too many baseball activities too soon. Soto had a stationary bike in his small apartment to work on. The Nationals also sent him a tee and “sock balls” in case he wanted to swing. None of that is close to replicating real baseball work. So, an oblique injury -- something common and difficult to shake -- would be a huge detriment in a 60-game season.

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The Nationals were set to manage Kendrick’s workload regardless of season length. The 37-year-old -- who spent his July 12 birthday in quarantine -- was stalled by a hamstring problem at the end of spring training last season. Without Ryan Zimmerman, and with the addition of the designated hitter, demand for Kendrick to play has gone up.

Mapping out how Soto and Kendrick feel will be work for the days to come. Thursday, the trio was elated to be back in the same place. Martinez finally received an early message that the players were good to join the team. Soto finally was let out of his apartment and onto the field.

“It was tough for me because I wanted to be back so bad,” Soto said. “But we got through that, and now we’re back.”

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