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Howie Kendrick says he’s not an everyday player anymore; but he’s producing when called upon

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Whether he’s starting, coming on late in games, or pinch hitting, Howie Kendrick has put up impressive numbers in 2019.

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MLB: Washington Nationals at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Howie Kendrick went 3 for 4 with a home run, three RBIs, and two runs scored in the 7-0 win over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday afternoon, but Washington’s 36-year-old, 14-year veteran wasn’t in the Nationals’ lineup for the first of three in St. Louis, Missouri’s Busch Stadium on Monday night.

Kendrick’s three-hit game left him 24 for 57 (.421 AVG), with seven doubles, three homers, 12 RBIs, four walks, and 12 runs scored in the 23 games since he returned from a stint on the 10-Day Injured List for a hamstring injury.

Kendrick had hit safely in nine of 11 starts since coming off the IL, with six multi-hit games in that stretch. He talked over the weekend, however, about how second-year manager Davey Martinez has used him throughout the season in an attempt to keep the infielder healthy to help out down the stretch.

“I know I’m not an everyday guy anymore,” Kendrick said, “and it’s been cool to get a lot of at bats. I’ve gotten quite a few at bats this year, you know, and he’s done a great job with being able to manage me and [Kurt] Suzuki and some of the other guys that have been around.”

With careful management of his playing time, Kendrick, who played 40 games and had 160 plate appearances total in 2018, before suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in his right foot which ended his season, has put up a .336/.386/.559 line, with 23 doubles and 15 homers in 111 games and 337 plate appearances total, over which he was worth 2.5 fWAR heading into Tuesday’s game with the Cardinals.

Kendrick said returning to a place he felt comfortable, in the second year of a 2-year/$7M deal, after playing parts of two seasons in D.C. has a lot to do with what he’s been able to accomplish this summer.

“Having the ability come back to a place where I really enjoy it and get to be around these guys and have fun,” has been important, Kendrick said, “... and you know I’ve been putting in a lot of work with [Hitting Coach] Kevin Long this year, and him and [Assistant Hitting Coach] Joe Dillon, and it’s been fun.

“We’ve got a lot of great young guys here, guys like [Victor Robles], [Juan] Soto, [Anthony] Rendon, [Trea] Turner, I mean those guys they keep you going every day, and it’s been fun, and it’s been cool to be able see these guys grow, and they’ve helped me out too with my game so it’s been fun.”

As much as he wants to play as often as possible, Kendrick says that he’s aware of where he is in his career, and fine with the way he’s been handled by his manager.

“I’m not an everyday guy anymore and I know that and he knows,” Kendrick reiterated, “... and I’m not going to complain one bit about the way I’ve been used. When I play, I play and when I don’t I’m ready to play, to go in the game, and I’ve kind of streamlined that process a little more throughout the year, I’ve figured out since being in the National League how to prepare myself and to be ready.

“We’ve come up with little drills you know for when we pinch hit and things like that to be able to be as ready as we can, and then once you get in the game whatever is going to happen is going to happen, and that’s kind of how I try to look at it.

“I try to keep the same mindset of, ‘Hey, I’ve prepared, I’m going to go out here and try to do my job, and that’s all you can ask for and I think your teammates know that and I think your coaches know that, and I think that’s the biggest part of it, and mentally you just have to know you’re not always going to succeed.”

He has succeeded often enough, however, in whatever role he’s been asked to play, with a .315/.360/.500 line, 16 doubles, and 10 homers in 272 PAs in his 63 starts, a .429/.492/.821 line, seven doubles, and five home runs as a sub, and a .382/.421/.647 line as a pinch hitter in 38 plate appearances before Tuesday night’s game in St. Louis.

Kendrick started in the second of three with the Cardinals in Busch Stadium, batting fifth and playing first base, and he tripled the first time up, scoring the Nationals’ first run, and then homered to center the second time up to put the Nats up 2-1 after the Cards tied it, before singling in the eighth (3 for 4), and walking in the ninth to fall a double short of the cycle in what ended up a 6-2 win.

“The one thing last year that really hurt this club was when Howie went down with a torn Achilles,” Chip Hale told reporters, after his second game filling in as manager for Davey Martinez, while the Nats’ skipper waits to be cleared to travel after a health scare.

“Not just the hits and the defensive plays, it was the presence in the clubhouse, so obviously it’s been huge this year having him all year.

“We’ve tried to play him and rest him to keep him healthy. We’ll see how that goes the rest of the season, but he’s done a great job on the field and in the clubhouse.”