WASHINGTON -- Howie Kendrick has been one of the Nationals’ most valuable hitters during a comeback season in 2019, and he was named the Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series. But Kendrick was not starting at second base for Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night at Nationals Park, with manager Dave Martinez electing to start Asdrúbal Cabrera at second base instead.
Martinez gave two reasons for his decision: Kendrick hit more grounders against Astros starter Zack Greinke while Cabrera had a better chance to get the ball up in the air. He also pointed to Cabrera’s history with the veteran right-hander (.432/.512/.568 line in 37 career at-bats).
“You look at the at-bats, it's not something where he's just 2-for-5,” Martinez said. “He's had a lot of at-bats against him.”
Looking at the matchups, however, reveals that Cabrera did not face Greinke in 2019. They faced off just three times in ‘18 -- when Cabrera played for the Phillies and Greinke pitched for the D-backs. He went 1-for-2 with a walk. Each of their previous encounters all came in '12 or earlier.
Cabrera provides an upgrade defensively, and Kendrick should be available off the bench to plug into a high-leverage spot at some point during the game. But it’s still a curious decision to remove the team’s second-most productive hitter from the regular season. Kendrick’s 142 OPS+ trailed Anthony Rendon (153) and surpassed Juan Soto (138).
“I kind of like the left-handed at-bat in the lineup to start off,” Martinez said. “The other thing is having Howie off the bench ain't a bad thing neither.”
Corbin preparing to start, not available out of the ‘pen
An extra day of rest made a big difference for Patrick Corbin, pushing his start back to Saturday night after his 21-pitch relief outing in Game 1 on Tuesday night. Corbin was able to get back in his normal routine as a starter, a rare occurrence for him this month. He has made more appearances out of the bullpen (four) than as a starter (two).
But even if the Nationals have a lead late in Game 3 and need an inning out of the bullpen, Corbin will not be available. Martinez wants him to focus on his start. However, Martinez gave the Astros something else to consider before Game 3 -- perhaps the Nats have another trick up their sleeve.
“That doesn't mean you might not see somebody else, though,” Martinez said with a laugh.
If you’re curious, it’s worth noting that Max Scherzer's normal between-starts throw day would be Friday.