In announcing his retirement on Instagram earlier this week, Howie Kendrick, who played for four big league teams over his 15 seasons in the majors, took a moment to thank all of his teammates in Anaheim, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
“To my teammates throughout the years,” Kendrick wrote, “... thank you for the times and hardships we’ve shared. I’ve learned from you and hopefully taught some of you the bits and pieces I got from the guys before me.”
Count Nationals’ outfielder Andrew Stevenson among those players who feels Kendrick helped him over the time the two of them spent together in the nation’s capital.
A tip of the cap to a great career@Nationals OF @astevenson6 on @MLBNetworkRadio: pic.twitter.com/LhRQKO6V4y— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) December 22, 2020
Stevenson, 26, and a 2015 2nd Round pick out of LSU, debuted in the majors in 2017, the same season Kendrick, now 37, was acquired from the Phillies, along with cash, for minor league pitcher McKenzie Mills and international bonus slot money.
In an MLB Network Radio interview on Tuesday, Stevenson, who impressed last September when he was called back up to the big leagues and went on a late-season run, said he did appreciate the fact that Kendrick was willing to pass on what he’d learned.
“When I first got up, some of the stuff that he was talking about I’d never heard before, and then you started seeing and watching him — what makes him so successful, and it’s just all the stuff that he’s picked up over the years, and he was willing to pass that down to the younger guys,” Stevenson said, “... and he was a huge part in that locker room which made us successful in 2019 and winning that [World Series] championship. He was the big voice in that locker room, and I wish him nothing but the best.”
“He’s one of the best teammates I ever played with,” Stevenson said. “True professional at the plate, true professional off the field, on the field, nothing but respect for Howie.
“When I first came up he was one of the guys that it didn’t matter if it was your first day in the big leagues or if you were a 10-year vet, he was going to treat you the same.”
Stevenson, who was with the club though he wasn’t part of the World Series roster, had an up close look at Kendrick’s decisive home run late in Game 7 in Houston and he told hosts Jim Duquette and Mike Ferrin that time stood still when Kendrick’s blast clanged off of the right field foul pole in Minute Maid Park, putting the Nationals up for good.
“It went up,” Stevenson recalled, “and all of a sudden you heard that thud and everyone was like, ‘That just happened.’ In the moment ... you don’t think about it, but that’s one of the biggest home runs in baseball, considering the circumstances, and it was something that I’ll never forget, moment, place, everything just kind of stands still when you think about that.”
In 2020, Stevenson was hitless in six plate appearances in July, but he spent a good part of his summer at the Nationals’ Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg, VA before he got the call to return to the majors and collected hits in all 12 games he appeared in in September, going 15 for 36 (.417/.488/.833), with seven doubles, a triple, two homers, four walks, eight Ks, and one stolen base in 12 games (10 starts) and 41 PAs over the final weeks of the 60-game campaign.
In 45 games and 84 PAs in the majors between 2019-20, the left-handed hitting defense-first outfielder has put up a combined .366/.464/.620 line with eight doubles, two triples, two home runs, 11 walks, 22 Ks, and two stolen bases when he’s had opportunities to play with the big league club, putting himself in a good position to claim a spot on the major league roster in 2021.
The secret to his success over the last couple of seasons, especially at the plate?
“Trying to stay more to the middle of the field if not err to the left side and maybe more so just being as relaxed as possible,” Stevenson said.
“I think that’s what’s kind of helped me over the past few years. Your first few years you get up there and you want to do something every at bat so you’re trying a little bit harder than probably you should be, and then as the years are going on, you kind of get a little bit older, start to relax a little bit more, and I think that’s been the biggest thing, just being able to relax in the box and have a little fun with it.”
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo was asked last week if Stevenson’s recent success has convinced those in the front office in D.C. that he could be a fourth outfielder on the big league roster, as their club tries to add a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat in a corner outfield spot or at first base this winter.
“I don’t think anything he did this year convinced us about that,” Rizzo said, “... we’ve had great expectations for him for a long time.
“We drafted him really high. We like the player. Skill set works for us, especially as a fourth outfielder or a platoon guy. He played with his hair on fire and a lot energy this year, which we really, really liked, in a season that I think needed some energy. He exuded energy.
“I think he was a hungry player that wanted to show me and everyone else that he belongs, and I think his skill set sets up nicely for the type of game that he has. I think that confidence is a wonderful thing and once he started playing well, earning everyday reps, he started playing well, earning everyday reps, and then he started taking off from there and I think you saw a very confident player that has the tools to play in the big leagues and he showed them off at the end of last year.”
So, does he see Stevenson as a platoon partner with another left fielder? Or do they want to add an everyday outfielder to play alongside Victor Robles and Juan Soto with Stevenson as a fourth outfielder who can play all three spots?
“Our priority is to add a middle of the lineup bat,” Rizzo said. “So be it the corner outfield or another position, we think that [Stevenson’s] got an opportunity to have a spot on this team and be an impactful guy on this team.”