It was easy to miss by the end of Sunday afternoon in San Diego, once history was made, once the Washington Nationals’ latest win was defined by four swings instead of one.
But it did happen. Howie Kendrick, somehow, had delivered again.
“I kind of expect it out of him because he’s been so good, because he’s a professional,” Nationals shortstop Trea Turner said after a 5-2 victory, their 11th in 15 games. “Every time he goes up there he gives us a good at-bat, seems to put the barrel on the ball. This year — and even last year — he’s been raking. He’s been hot the whole time.”
Turner was discussing Kendrick’s go-ahead homer against the San Diego Padres on Sunday, the first of four straight blasts that put Washington in front for good. But he also was talking about Kendrick’s whole season, the biggest surprise for the now-surging Nationals, the fact that it’s almost mid-June and the 35-year-old is still crushing baseballs. He has a .327 average, a .960 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 11 homers as a part-time starter and ace pinch hitter. His OPS+ — an advanced metric based on on-base-plus-slugging percentage that uses 100 as the league average and compares hitters with a variety of factors — is a soaring 143.
He has been better when the situation is bigger, often yanking Washington away from disaster with his bat, and served as a needed, productive replacement for the still-injured Ryan Zimmerman (at first) and Anthony Rendon (at third) when he was out. It is hard to overstate Kendrick’s value to the Nationals, who are still trying to navigate out of a dreadful start. And it has also raised an interesting possibility as summer begins.
“Man, he means the world,” Rendon said Sunday. “He should definitely be an all-star, that’s for sure. Nobody’s talking about him.”
It’s worth noting that Rendon, one of baseball’s best third basemen, has said he would be glad to be an all-star with one provision: He doesn’t want to go to Cleveland for the game. He would rather spend the four days off with his family. So it’s worth considering that an endorsement for Kendrick is, in some small part, a ploy to have his spot filled should he lose to Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado in fan voting.
But Rendon may be onto something here. There are two challenges to considering Kendrick’s chances of being an all-star. The first is that he is not on the official ballot — since he’s not a full-time starter — and needs to get written (or typed) in by fans. The second is that he doesn’t have a set position; he has made 18 starts at first base, 14 at third and 13 at second. He could sneak in as a reserve because they are selected via player ballots and by the commissioner’s office, but he doesn’t bring much flash or recognition into the selection process.
And yet, a quick scan of his numbers say he should be in the mix to join the National League’s bench. He has been incredible for the Nationals in “clutch” situations. With two outs? He has delivered three home runs, 13 RBI and a .365 average. After he has fallen into an 0-2 count, the toughest spot for hitters? He has five home runs and a ridiculous 1.008 OPS. How about with runners in scoring position, the kind of situation that has been tough for most Nationals this season? Kendrick has a .400 batting average and 30 RBI. Make it runners in scoring position with two outs, and he’s hitting .333.
Whether this makes Kendrick an all-star or brings deserved praise doesn’t matter to him. He prefers not to talk about himself or his success this year or define it as anything other than him taking the same plate approach as always. Kendrick is often called a “professional hitter” by coaches and teammates, and he has a .292 average across 14 seasons to back that up. He’s just happy to have fully recovered from a torn right Achilles’ that kept him out for most of last season. He’s glad to still have the chance to produce, off the bench, as a pinch hitter, in the middle of the order, whatever.
“I feel like when he’s up, we’re just all like: ‘Here goes G-Pa. G-Pa’s going to do what he’s done for a million years, and he’s going to do it again,” right fielder Adam Eaton said, poking fun at Kendrick’s age. “'We’re just going to sit here and watch it happen.’ And then when he does it, we’re not really surprised, but we’re also really surprised. It’s pretty cool to watch, and we’re happy to have him.”
That, of course, is more than enough for Kendrick. An all-star appearance, however feasible it may be, would only confirm what his team already knows.
Trea Turner, SS
Adam Eaton, RF
Anthony Rendon, 3B
Juan Soto, LF
Howie Kendrick, DH
Matt Adams, 1B
Brian Dozier, 2B
Kurt Suzuki, C
Victor Robles, CF
Aníbal Sánchez, P
White Sox (31-33)
Leury Garcia, CF
Yoan Moncada, 3B
Jose Abreu, DH
James McCann, C
Eloy Jimenez, LF
Yonder Alonso, 1B
Tim Anderson, SS
Yolmer Sanchez, 2B
Charlie Tilson, RF
Odrisamer Despaigne, P
Read more on the Washington Nationals: