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What role will Howie Kendrick play for the Washington Nationals in 2019?

Will Howie Kendrick be ready for the start of Spring Training? How about Opening Day? And what role will he play in 2019?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

In spite of all the talk about being comfortable with the in-house options on the big league roster (Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo) and in the Nationals’ system (Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia), Washington’s General Manager, Mike Rizzo, went out and signed Brian Dozier to a one-year deal as the GM said he might if he could find the right fit at second base this winter.

Dozier is seen as an everyday option for 2019 and a bridge to a future lineup with Kieboom at second base in the nation’s capital.

Where does his addition leave Kendrick though, who is returning for the second year of a 2-year/$7M deal he signed with the Nationals in January, 2018, after suffering a ruptured right achilles tendon last May?

Before the deal with Dozier was announced, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez talked at Winterfest in December about looking forward to getting Kendrick back into the lineup in 2019.

“Howie looks great,” Martinez said. “He’s walking perfectly. He said he can run right now if he needed to, and he’s going to start hitting with [Hitting Coach Kevin Long], so he said when it comes to Spring Training he’s fully going to be ready to play. So I’m looking forward to getting him out there again, because we missed him. When he got hurt, good/bad, we got to see [Juan] Soto, but we missed Howie. He’s a big part of our lineup, so we hope that we get him back and he’s fully healthy.”

“Everything has been feeling good,” Kendrick told reporters in early December. “I feel great.

“I feel like I can sprint now, but in reality that would be dumb to do. But like I said, I feel good. I feel like where we’re at right now is in a really good spot ... I just started running Monday [November 26th], and like I said, I’ve been on the AlterG treadmill seven minutes, incline treadmill walking, a lot of lateral stuff, a lot of step-ups and just really building my legs up a lot around it.”

Kendrick did say at the time that he thought he’d be ready for the start of Spring Training.

“I think the biggest thing and the most important thing was strengthening it,” he explained, “and continuing to get strength in there, and hopefully I’m still on track for Spring Training.

“I’m expecting to be ready for Spring,” Kendrick added.

“I know things happen and I could say that but something might happen, but if things keep going the way they’re going now I should be ready for Spring Training.”

Rather than take their chances that Kendrick would be ready and able to return from the injury to play second base, or that Difo, who’s struggled offensively in the majors, could step into a starting role, the Nationals added Dozier to the mix.

So where does that leave Kendrick? Right-handed bench bat and backup infielder/outfielder who could fill in at either position if healthy? Will the 35-year-old, 13-year veteran be able to return from a late-career injury to contribute to the cause?

Before the injury last season, Kendrick was 46 for 152 (.303/.331/.474) with 14 doubles and four home runs in 40 games, leaving him with a .297/.337/.484 line, 22 doubles and 11 HRs over the 92 games he’s played with the Nationals since he was acquired from Philadelphia in July of 2017.

What do you expect from Kendrick in 2019?