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Howie Kendrick: Leadership Defined

MLB.com

The following is one of four feature articles included in the April/May issue of Nationals Magazine, available in the Main Team Store and throughout Nationals Park.

Nationals infielder/outfielder Howie Kendrick, by his own account, was one of the top high school baseball players in the state of Florida as a senior.

The following is one of four feature articles included in the April/May issue of Nationals Magazine, available in the Main Team Store and throughout Nationals Park.

Nationals infielder/outfielder Howie Kendrick, by his own account, was one of the top high school baseball players in the state of Florida as a senior.

However, one of the few college programs that showed any attention was the University of Florida, before head coach Andy Lopez left the school to take over at the University of Arizona.

"No real [recruitment] interest I guess, in a sense," recalls Kendrick, who went to West Nassau High near Jacksonville.

Kendrick said he tried out for about "seven or eight" junior college baseball programs. The last one was St. John's River State College in Palatka, Fla., which offered him books and tuition.

It appeared that Kendrick would redshirt as a freshman, but he quickly made an impression.

"In the fall I played well and the second baseman, Chad Williams, told me, 'Hey, man, I am going to the outfield so you can play second.' I was supposed to redshirt and I ended up playing," said Kendrick, standing by his locker during Spring Training in West Palm Beach. "That helped me get drafted. I was thankful to Chad for giving me the opportunity."

Sixteen years after his professional debut, Kendrick is still often overlooked despite his impressive credentials. That included a career average of .291 going into this season with 313 doubles, 104 homers and 123 stolen bases in 1,435 games over 12 Major League seasons.

Washington catcher Matt Wieters was with the Baltimore Orioles for several seasons and faced Kendrick many times.

"I always thought he was one of the most underrated players in the big leagues," Wieters said during Spring Training. "He gives a manager so much flexibility. He can rest [starters] when you need it. Just a professional hitter; calling games against him, it is tough to find a place to go" with a pitch to get him out.

Kendrick, 34, was drafted in the 10th round by the Los Angeles (then-Anaheim) Angels in 2002 and simply mashed the baseball throughout his Minor League career.

He broke into pro ball in the Rookie-level Arizona League by hitting .318 that year. Kendrick then hit .368 in 2003 in the Pioneer League and batted .367 in the low Single-A Midwest League the following season.

The right-handed hitter then batted .384 in the high Single-A California League in 2005 and .342 in the Double-A Texas League later that year. He continued to hit at Triple-A with Salt Lake, where he batted .369 in 2006 -- the same season he made it to the Majors for the first time.

Kendrick put together nine quality seasons with the Angels, two more in Los Angeles with the Dodgers and began the 2017 season by hitting .340 in 39 games with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals acquired him in late July just prior to the non-waiver trade deadline.

He played 37 games in left field and also saw action at first base, second base and in right field. Kendrick was a free agent at the end of the year but signed a two-year contract with the Nationals in January.

"When we were trying to find alternatives, there were alternatives -- but they weren't as perfectly formed as Howie Kendrick was," President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo told reporters this spring. "His skill set, his ability to play every day and come off the bench. He can play multiple positions. And then you have the extra additive skill set that he's a leader in the clubhouse, and really in the short stint here, turned into one of the leaders here. That was just kind of icing on his performance."

Kendrick knows that he could play all over the field again this season, with regular second baseman Daniel Murphy and regular left fielder Adam Eaton both recovering from knee surgeries.

"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," Kendrick said. "I feel a lot more comfortable [playing outfield] 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. I can give guys a breather here and there and do my part."

"He's awesome," new Nationals Manager Dave Martinez told reporters in Spring Training. "I can't say enough about him. His leadership in the clubhouse, and the fact that he can do so many things and hit anywhere in the lineup and never complain ... he's a good guy to have around. He's going to help us win a lot of games."

No matter where Kendrick has gone, he has been part of winning teams. He has appeared in the Postseason with the Angels from 2007-09 and 2014, with the Dodgers in 2015 and 2016, 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. That is the epitome of what we want to do."

Kendrick hopes to be part of a winner again in 2018. "We have the same guys coming back for the most part. It is going to be a great year," he said.

The veteran embraces the role of a clubhouse leader and mentor to developing players.

"I love talking to the young guys. They get their work in; everyone shows up ready to play every day. I try to help them understand we have all been there. The biggest thing is having those guys feel comfortable," Kendrick said.

One still-young outfielder with the Nationals is Bryce Harper, 25, who has an MVP Award and several All-Star game appearances on his resume.

Kendrick enjoyed watching Harper as a teammate for the first time. "It was impressive," Kendrick said. "The guy has been amazing. He has been a phenom even before he came into pro baseball. The guy works hard. He wants to get better; that is scary. I have been really impressed with him since coming over here."

Kendrick was able to work out this offseason in Arizona with Kevin Long, the new hitting coach for the Nationals, on the field at Paradise Valley Community College.

Long grew up in Phoenix, played at the University of Arizona and went to high school with Kendrick's brother-in-law.

"He threw batting practice to some of us. We have already started making some minor adjustments," Kendrick said. "He knows the game of baseball. It is going to be a fun year for all of us."

Kendrick was happy to come back to the nation's capital, even though he has lived with his wife and two sons in Arizona for several years. Last year he was able to see some of the major sites in Washington, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

"I love D.C. -- history is one of my favorite subjects. My kids love it, too. I love the Air and Space Museum," he said.

Washington Nationals

Curly W Live Podcast Preview: Daniel Johnson

On Episode No. 9 of the Nationals' podcast, we are joined by Washington's Minor League Player of the Year
MLB.com

Welcome to Episode No. 9 of the Curly W Live Podcast. On this episode, we were joined by Washington's Minor League Player of the Year Daniel Johnson and Minor League pitching coach Michael Tejera. Both Daniel and Michael are coming off successful 2017 seasons, capped off by their participation in the 2017 Arizona Fall League.

Johnson enjoyed a breakout season in 2017, hitting .298 with 29 doubles, four triples, 22 home runs, 72 RBI, 35 walks, 22 stolen bases and 83 runs scored in 130 games between Single-A Hagerstown and Single-A Potomac. Johnson ranked among Washington Nationals farmhands in home runs (3rd, 22), RBI (5th, 72) and stolen bases (4th, 22). Among full-season players, Johnson's .298 batting average was good for third in Washington's system. His .505 slugging percentage was good for eighth among all Single-A players, combined, and his .861 OPS was 10th.

Welcome to Episode No. 9 of the Curly W Live Podcast. On this episode, we were joined by Washington's Minor League Player of the Year Daniel Johnson and Minor League pitching coach Michael Tejera. Both Daniel and Michael are coming off successful 2017 seasons, capped off by their participation in the 2017 Arizona Fall League.

Johnson enjoyed a breakout season in 2017, hitting .298 with 29 doubles, four triples, 22 home runs, 72 RBI, 35 walks, 22 stolen bases and 83 runs scored in 130 games between Single-A Hagerstown and Single-A Potomac. Johnson ranked among Washington Nationals farmhands in home runs (3rd, 22), RBI (5th, 72) and stolen bases (4th, 22). Among full-season players, Johnson's .298 batting average was good for third in Washington's system. His .505 slugging percentage was good for eighth among all Single-A players, combined, and his .861 OPS was 10th.

We chatted with Daniel about his breakout 2017 season, his Fall League experience, and what he is doing to get ready for 2018. Tejera spent the previous seven seasons as pitching coach of the GCL Nationals. In 2018, he will embark on his first season with Double-A Harrisburg -- his eighth season in Washington's system.

We talked to Michael about his AFL experience, some of his coaching philosophies, what he will do to prepare for Double-A and even got into the life of a pitching coach in the offseason.

Here it is: Episode No. 9 of the Curly W Live Podcast. Enjoy!

Listen to this interview and more on the Nationals' podcast page.

Washington Nationals

Nationals Features: For Glory

Roark was one of several Nationals to take part in the 2017 World Baseball Classic
Washington Nationals

Just moments into the semifinal of the World Baseball Classic, Tanner Roark found himself working out of a jam. Facing an undefeated Team Japan squad and uncharacteristically rainy conditions on March 21 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Roark's second pitch had slipped and hit Japan's leadoff hitter, Tetsuto Yamada.

But like he's done in Washington for the past four seasons, Roark buckled down, focused his energy and escaped the frame unscathed. Mixing pitches, speeds and locations, the Nationals right-hander tossed four scoreless innings while allowing just two hits and a walk.

Just moments into the semifinal of the World Baseball Classic, Tanner Roark found himself working out of a jam. Facing an undefeated Team Japan squad and uncharacteristically rainy conditions on March 21 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Roark's second pitch had slipped and hit Japan's leadoff hitter, Tetsuto Yamada.

But like he's done in Washington for the past four seasons, Roark buckled down, focused his energy and escaped the frame unscathed. Mixing pitches, speeds and locations, the Nationals right-hander tossed four scoreless innings while allowing just two hits and a walk.

"The key tonight, without question, was Tanner Roark," said Team USA manager Jim Leyland following the semifinal win. "There's no question about that. We needed some innings from him and he gave us those innings."

Roark's performance gave the United States an emotional lift in its World Baseball Classic title run, as the U.S. defeated Japan, 2-1, and followed that up with an 8-0 blanking of Team Puerto Rico in the title game the following night. It was Team USA's first Classic championship in four tries, helping to push the event to record attendance and television ratings.

Following the semifinal game in an on-field interview with MLB Network reporter Jon Paul Morosi, the usually understated Wilmington, Ill., native said he was just doing his job to help his team win.

"That's what starters are supposed to do," said Roark. "Go out there and put up zeroes and get the hitters back in the dugout as fast as possible."

Video: USA@JPN: Roark talks crowd energy, scoreless start

Roark later noted that the rainy conditions made his start difficult, but he tried to ignore the elements. Following the game, he credited the pro-Team USA crowds that filled the California ballparks during the final two rounds of the three-week baseball showcase.

"The fans are definitely into it," Roark said. "You heard it tonight and in San Diego. They were loud, and we feed off that. We love a loud crowd chanting 'U-S-A.' It gets your adrenaline pumping. It gets you going."

Roark, who also pitched in relief in Team USA's second game of the tournament against the Dominican Republic in Miami, was one of six players in Major League camp with the Nationals who earned spots on their respective national teams. Roark was joined on the U.S. squad by second baseman Daniel Murphy, while left-hander Enny Romero pitched for Team Dominican Republic, relievers Oliver Perez and Rafael Martin represented Team Mexico, and backstop Jhonatan Solano caught for Team Colombia.

Additionally, Nationals farmhands R.C. Orlan and Nick Rickles (Israel), Randolph Oduber (Netherlands), and Adrian Sanchez (Colombia) participated in the event.

The preseason tournament format gave participants a taste of postseason baseball at a time of year usually reserved for more relaxed Spring Training contests -- a challenging situation for players, coaching staffs and organizations alike. While Roark and Murphy are stars in the big leagues for the Nationals, playing time was difficult to come by on a team loaded with talent.

Prior to the opening game of the Classic, Murphy cited the immense amount of star power.

"I'm truly humbled to even be able to be asked to do something like this, to represent our country," Murphy said in a television interview. "And then even, as much as that, to look and see up and down the lineup and kind of pitching and offensive players we have on the team … these are some of the best players in baseball."

Ultimately, Murphy and Roark marched on to win the championship. Pérez, Martín and Solano's teams were eliminated in the first round, while Romero played a big role in Team Dominican Republic's success. The 6-foot-3, 236-pound southpaw held his own alongside decorated big league relievers like Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia, Alex Colome and Fernando Rodney, retiring all eight batters he faced and earning a victory while striking out three batters in 2 2/3 perfect innings of work.

Using a devastating fastball that clocked as high as 100.1 mph according to Statcast™, Romero turned heads and positioned himself to break camp with the Nationals.

As for Roark, Murphy, Team USA and the future of the World Baseball Classic, the success of the tournament in its fourth year (2006, '09, '13 and '17) boosted the prospects of the Classic gaining even more traction as a major event on the sports calendar. With raucous crowds providing a World Cup-style atmosphere and players enjoying big moments with even bigger celebrations, the energy and international flavor of the event provided flair typically unseen during the Major League Baseball season.

Within Team USA, Roark said the players in the clubhouse formed a bond that will last beyond the three weeks they trained and played together. The U.S. camaraderie was evident throughout the team's eight games, something that could entice more American players to sign up to wear the red, white and blue in four years.

"We're always having fun in the clubhouse no matter what," Roark said. "They keep it loose. It's like an All-Star team. To get all these [guys] together that know the game and want to play for their country, it's great to be a part of."

Mike Feigen is the content manager of creative services for the Washington Nationals.

Washington Nationals

Nationals Features: Adam Eaton's splash

One of the newest Nationals bolsters the roster and gives the team a versatile star with an eye on the postseason
Washington Nationals

In the early evening of Wednesday, Dec. 7, just a few miles south of Nationals Park on the shores of the Potomac River in nearby National Harbor, Md., the annual Baseball Winter Meetings were in full swing.

As executives, scouts and media members rubbed elbows in the hotel lobby, Nationals President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo was about to pull off a deal that would reverberate throughout the proceedings. It was clear that the Nationals were interested in making a big move -- "We've got a lot of lines in the water," Rizzo said each day of the meetings when he met the media -- but what that meant remained to be seen.

In the early evening of Wednesday, Dec. 7, just a few miles south of Nationals Park on the shores of the Potomac River in nearby National Harbor, Md., the annual Baseball Winter Meetings were in full swing.

As executives, scouts and media members rubbed elbows in the hotel lobby, Nationals President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo was about to pull off a deal that would reverberate throughout the proceedings. It was clear that the Nationals were interested in making a big move -- "We've got a lot of lines in the water," Rizzo said each day of the meetings when he met the media -- but what that meant remained to be seen.

At 5:45 p.m., Rizzo pulled out one of those lines. Outfielder Adam Eaton was joining the Nationals from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for three highly regarded pitching prospects. Rizzo had not only shaken up the Nationals' roster, he had given his team a newfound edge in its quest for a National League pennant.

It's no secret that postseason baseball is a different beast than the regular season. Every pitch takes on greater significance, from a ball hit toward the gap in the third inning to a run-scoring chance with the game in the balance in the seventh. When working the count, putting a ball in play, or making a key defensive read can decide the fate of an entire season, postseason teams benefit when their players play a well-rounded brand of baseball.

Eaton, 28, is the prototype of a player who can positively impact the game in every area on the checklist. Over the past three seasons, his .290 batting average and .362 on-base percentage underscore his batted-ball skills and his eye at the plate. In fact, he is one of just five players in all of MLB to hit .280 with a .360 OBP in each of the past three seasons. The other four are Miguel Cabrera, Buster Posey, Christian Yelich and Mike Trout.

Eaton, a 5-foot-8 left-handed hitter, also offers a rare challenge to pitchers looking for a platoon edge. Last season he hit .285 with a .360 OBP against righties and .284 with a .369 mark against lefties, rendering him immune to some of the late-inning bullpen maneuvers that have dominated postseason baseball in recent years. He has also developed power, eclipsing 50 extra-base hits -- including 14 home runs -- in each of the past two seasons.

Rizzo was positively giddy about his latest acquisition during a recent Season Plan Holder event in Washington.

"(Adam) should be a fan favorite," Rizzo said. "He's the type of guy that I love to have on the club. He's an energy guy, hard-nosed guy, hustle kind of player with a lot of talent.

"He hits for a high average, he's got sneaky pop, he steals you a base and plays good defense," Rizzo added. "He's the type of instinctual player who has skills and clubhouse presence."

On the bases, Eaton -- a 19th-round pick in the 2010 Draft -- gets good reads and runs well. Among the quintet in the .280 batting average/.360 on-base club, only Eaton and Trout have notched double-digit stolen base totals in each of the past three seasons. He has also progressively bettered his success rate, improving from 63 percent in 2014 to 69 percent in 2015 to 74 percent in 2016.

Rizzo believes the Springfield, Ohio, native could crack the 20-steal plateau for the first time in 2017.

"You put a guy like Adam Eaton with Davey Lopes and you've got someone who could go from 15 or 20 (up to) 30 bags," Rizzo said.

In the field, Eaton is coming off an outstanding defensive season that saw him change positions without missing a beat. In fact, he has finished in the top three of the Gold Glove voting in both center field (2014) and right field (2016) in the past three years. He has good range, soft hands and a strong throwing arm, collecting an amazing 18 outfield assists in 2016 alone.

Video: Top 10 Right Now: Eaton 6th best in center field

MASN broadcaster F.P. Santangelo offered his praise of Eaton's arm strength at the Season Plan Holder event.

"You've gotta see this guy throw," Santangelo gushed. "He's got a cannon, and it's accurate. I think that's one of the more underrated parts of his game. I remember the first time I saw him -- I didn't know he had that."

Eaton caught the attention of fans in Washington by attending the team's Winterfest at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center the weekend of Dec. 10-11. Less than three days removed from being a member of the White Sox, having a quiet offseason at home with his wife and 8-month-old son, Eaton was busy signing autographs, taking selfies with his new admirers and answering questions about his new team.

Flashing a big smile and showcasing the genuine, happy-go-lucky nature that endeared him to supporters on the South Side of Chicago, Eaton acquitted himself well throughout the weekend. He also made it clear that winning was the first thing on his mind.

"My job is to go out there and play the game of baseball the best way I can," Eaton told reporters. "Coming into such a great organization and being able to contribute … not too many people get the chance that I have. I'll try not to mess anything up, try to come in and produce as well as I can and try to help this team win. That's my main focus."

He said he'd briefly chatted with a few teammates during the whirlwind 72 hours, coming away impressed with some of the early conversations. One of the first text messages he got after the trade, he said, was from Daniel Murphy, whose quick assimilation into the Nationals' clubhouse in 2016 helped the team get off to a fast start and eventually run away with the NL East Division.

Eaton and Murphy immediately found their minds were in the same place: "Let's get to work, let's get into the playoffs and go far in the playoffs. It starts now."

Murphy, who was already a fan of Eaton's style of play, told reporters he was "ecstatic" when he heard about the deal, adding "I had the good fortune of playing against him this year in Chicago and he's just fun to watch."

Murphy also said Eaton's lineup presence would pay dividends throughout the batting order for Manager Dusty Baker's squad.

"It sparks the whole offense," Murphy said. "You look at Trea (Turner) and how dangerous he was, and Adam's coming off a three-year cycle where he's been one of the most productive players in the Big Leagues. I'm a firm believer that protection comes from the front."

Rizzo said the Nationals' lineup would ultimately be Baker's decision. Eaton's versatility and ability to control the strike zone against any type of pitcher makes him suited for multiple lineup spots.

"We think we've upgraded ourselves offensively -- and let's not forget, we won 95 games and the division last year, Rizzo said."

Turner, who hit .342 with 13 home runs and stole 33 bases in just 73 games in 2016, said that he will be comfortable wherever he bats in the lineup. At Winterfest, he also cut to the chase in his assessment of Eaton, less than two months removed from a tough Division Series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"Watching (Adam) play, I know he's a fast guy with a strong arm -- I think that's what you need in the postseason," Turner said. "He can bunt here or there, go from first to third, steal a base, whatever it may be. I'm excited to have him help us out."

The architect of the Nationals' roster couldn't agree more.

"We're looking forward to taking not just the next step but the next several steps," Rizzo said, energizing the room of Nationals supporters at the Season Plan Holder event. "We definitely feel like we have an opportunity to win the World Series. That's the goal. I think we have the ingredients right now."

Mike Feigen is the content manager of creative services for the Washington Nationals.

Washington Nationals