WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. | Howie Kendrick was playing for the Philadelphia Phillies last summer when a member of the front office told him he would be dealt before the late July trade deadline.
The Phillies came through on that promise.
Kendrick, the well-traveled veteran, was dealt to the Washington Nationals on July 28.
“Being able to come here last year meant a lot. We were winning, but not as much” with the Phillies, said Kendrick, 34.
Kendrick came from a Phillies team that ended the season 66-96, while the Nationals won 31 more games than that and captured a division title for the second year in a row.
Washington lost in five games to the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series. After that, Kendrick became a free agent. But he signed a two-year deal with the Nationals and general manager Mike Rizzo in January.
“To go to the postseason meant a lot,” Kendrick said. “Having the chance to play for Dusty (Baker) was a dream come true. I feel in love with being here. This offseason, it was a place I wanted to come back to. (Rizzo) made it happen.”
Baker was let go after last season and replaced by Dave Martinez, a former bench coach with the Chicago Cubs.
“Davey is awesome. I have known him for years. He had been with (Cubs manager) Joe (Maddon) for a long time,” said Kendrick, who broke into the majors with the Angels in 2006.
Kendrick saw action mostly in left field for the Nationals in 2017, but he expects to play a lot of second base this season, especially if regular second baseman Daniel Murphy, who had knee surgery in October, isn’t ready for Opening Day on March 29 in Cincinnati.
A versatile right-handed hitter, Kendrick has played second base in 1,127 games. Kendrick has played in the 184 games in the outfield, with 182 of those in left. The Florida native is a career .291 hitter in 1435 games. Kendrick hit .340 for the Phillies last year and .293 in 52 games with Washington.
“I will play some infield this year. I already know that. Being able to help the team win is the biggest thing. I did it last year,” he said. “I feel a lot more comfortable with it now. I feel this year I will be even better at it. As a team and a front office, they have a lot of confidence in me.”
He appeared in the postseason with the Angels from 2007-09 and 2014, with the Dodgers from 2015-16 and with the Nationals last season.
“Coming up in 2006 with the Angels, we didn’t make the postseason and it was an eye opener,” he said. “After that we made it a few years in a row. When you have a team that is consistent and you can do things the right way, you can start winning, even make the World Series.”
Washington catcher Matt Wieters played against Kendrick for years and finally got to be his teammate last season.
“I was always thought he was one of the most underrated players in the big leagues,” Wieters said. “He gives a manager so much flexibility.”
But Kendrick is quick to deflect his status as an underrated star.
“I would never say that about myself. I don’t even think that. I just go out and play,” he said. “You know what? I am not going to complain about that (lack of attention). I am just going to go about my business.”
Kendrick was able to work out this past offseason in Arizona with Kevin Long, the new hitting coach for the Nationals. Long grew up in Phoenix and went to high school with Kendrick’s brother-in-law.
And Martinez, in his first managerial gig, is glad to have Kendrick.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Martinez told reporters. “He’s going to help us win a lot of games.”