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How Howie Kendrick became one of the Nationals’ most important players

A surprise trade deadline acquisition has bolstered both the Nats’ depth and starting lineup.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Entering play July 28, the Washington Nationals were in a state of flux. Starting outfielders Jayson Werth and Michael Taylor were placed on the disabled list earlier in the month and there was a constant rotation of left and center fielders making their way into the lineup each day.

Primary backups Chris Heisey and Ryan Raburn had just hit the shelf as well, prompting Washington to recall prospect Andrew Stevenson to make his MLB debut. Brian Goodwin was taking full advantage of his playing time but reinforcements were still very much needed.

The team’s outfield depth was stretched so thin that general manager Mike Rizzo was forced to pull the trigger on a trade for utility man Howie Kendrick with the Phillies.

Kendrick, 34, was a 12-year veteran known for his ability to hit for average and play all over the diamond.

Since joining the Nats, the Florida native has been a catalyst for their offense in a time when injuries have sidelined several stars. In 29 games, Kendrick’s posted a .340/.376/.596 slash line with five home runs, five doubles, two triples, 21 RBIs and a pair of stolen bases.

Washington Nationals v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

“I think the biggest thing is just to fit in,” Kendrick said a few days after he was traded. “The team is already winning and I came from over in the Phillies playing against these guys to being part of this team, and they already have something special here, and I think my goal is just to come in and fit in and to continue to do my job as a player. All I want to do is contribute and do my part.”

Werth and Taylor have since returned from injury, but with Bryce Harper rehabbing his knee and calf injuries, the Nats need Kendrick now more than ever.

Wilmer Difo has been a bright spot in limited action, but his outfield defense is shaky at best and he’s much more suited to the infield. The same could be said for Adam Lind, who has never been very quick on his feet and provides Dusty Baker with a potent pinch-hitting option off the bench.

Goodwin’s still a rookie and is on the DL right now, giving Kendrick the edge in both experience and overall performance. As for Alejandro De Aza, well, he’s only really on the team right now out of necessity.

Kendrick has played left field, right field and second base for the Nats already, and he has experience at both first and third base in his career as well. He’s also played in 30 playoff games including a trip to the ALCS with the Angels in 2009 and one to the NLCS with the Dodgers last season.

With Kendrick, Taylor and Werth manning the outfield, Trea Turner back in uniform and the usual suspects Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman continuing to rake, there’s no reason to believe the Nats’ lineup won’t be one of the best in the business come October — even if Harper’s rehab hits a snag.

While it’s true that Kendrick is no Harper, he’s certainly a serviceable enough replacement with several potent bats around him to keep Washington’s offense pumping on all cylinders.