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Kendrick's hot start creates conundrum at 2B

@JamalCollier
April 18, 2019

WASHINGTON -- Howie Kendrick started at second base Wednesday night against the Giants, the third time in the last four games that he got the nod over Brian Dozier, whom the Nationals signed during the offseason as one of their prime bounce-back candidates, but who has gotten off to a

WASHINGTON -- Howie Kendrick started at second base Wednesday night against the Giants, the third time in the last four games that he got the nod over Brian Dozier, whom the Nationals signed during the offseason as one of their prime bounce-back candidates, but who has gotten off to a slow start at the plate.

Dozier is dealing with a sore left foot after fouling a ball off it Tuesday -- manager Dave Martinez used Dozier as a pinch-hitter Wednesday night -- but this recent pattern begs the question of whether the Nats are moving toward a platoon between Kendrick and Dozier at second base. Martinez did not want to commit to a platoon Wednesday, but he acknowledged that Kendrick’s bat is making it difficult to justify sitting him. And that was before Kendrick added a walk and two more hits, including a solo homer, on Wednesday night in the Nats' 9-6 win.

“You’d love for [Kendrick] to play every day, but you got to take care of Howie,” Martinez said. “He’s going to play, but then again, I got to make sure that he’s with us for the duration of the season. ... I don’t really think we’re still at that point [of a platoon]. Like I said, Dozier is notorious for starting off slow.”

Since coming off the injured list, Kendrick has started the season 10-for-20 (.500) with three doubles, three homers and nine runs scored. Meanwhile, Dozier is hitting .170/.235/.234 with a 24 wRC+ and one homer for his lone extra-base hit in 14 games.

It’s true that Dozier’s OPS in the season’s opening month (.669) is easily his lowest compared to any other month, and lower than his career OPS (.764). The Nationals are not ready to give up on him after just 13 games, so Dozier will get opportunities to play and tighten his grip on the starting second-base job.

Martinez has been continually wary of Kendrick’s health. These are his first games back from a torn right Achilles last May, combined with a left hamstring injury suffered during Spring Training. Those injury concerns will likely keep Kendrick in some sort of part-time role for now, as Martinez attempts to avoid burning out the 35-year-old veteran.

But all Kendrick has done is hit since joining the Nats. If he continues as one of their hottest hitters to start the season, it will be interesting to see how Martinez finds way to keep him in the lineup.

Turner remains active despite broken finger

Trea Turner took ground balls at shortstop during batting practice Wednesday without throwing, as he was still wearing a splint on his broken right index finger. The Nationals still refuse to acknowledge a timetable for his return, but Turner has remained as active as possible since he suffered the injury two weeks ago.

“He’s actually keeping his legs in shape, doing everything he possibly can without using his index finger,” Martinez said. “He’s keeping the rest of his body in great shape, so that when he’s able to do baseball activity, he’s pretty much ready to go.”

Robles to remain hitting ninth

Rookie center fielder Victor Robles has been one of the team’s most productive hitters through the start of the year, batting .280/.345/.580 with three homers in his first 15 games in 2019, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be moving from the No. 9 spot in the lineup anytime soon.

Martinez says that he likes Robles hitting ninth because he effectively becomes a second leadoff hitter, but also because hitting in the bottom of the order takes some pressure off the 21-year-old rookie.

“We thought about it, but he’s a young hitter and he’s doing well,” Martinez said. “He’s been successful hitting ninth, so why change something? He’s getting on base for us. He’s knocked in some big runs for us in the nine hole. ... He’s doing really well, so at this point right now, I really don’t want to mess with him. I want him to keep playing the game, having fun and doing the things that he’s been doing.”

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.