Kendrick's progress could impact Nats' plans

Veteran aims to be ready for spring as he recovers from Achilles injury

December 4th, 2018
Washington Nationals left fielder Howie Kendrick (12) before a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Friday, May 11, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)Rick Scuteri/AP

WASHINGTON -- began running on an anti-gravity treadmill Monday, more than six months removed from rupturing his right Achilles tendon. He has been walking around without limping or limitations, and he said he does not even think about the injury.

"I'm expecting to be ready for spring," Kendrick said this weekend at the Nationals' annual WinterFest event. "I know things happen. … But if all things keep going the way they're going right now, I should be ready for Spring Training."

It's encouraging for the Nats, because Kendrick is penciled in as the primary starter at second base next season. He is likely to share playing time with , who can be an excellent defender, but Difo has not hit consistently during his time in the Majors. Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia are both promising young prospects -- ranked Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in the organization by MLB Pipeline -- who have some middle-infield experience, but while Kieboom could make his Major League debut at some point in 2019, neither is likely to be ready to take over as the Opening Day starter.

So the Nationals have to decide whether they think Kendrick will be ready, or if they should explore the free-agent market at second base.'s Jon Paul Morosi reported recently that the Nats have at least had preliminary talks with DJ LeMahieu and monitored the markets for infielders , Josh Harrison and . Washington checks in on nearly every major free agent, searching for potential value and ready to strike if it can find it, but general manager Mike Rizzo has continued to publicly downplay the need for a second baseman.

"We feel good about where we're at with second base," Rizzo said. "Difo is a terrific defender at second base and at shortstop, which is very, very valuable. Howie's a terrific second baseman. We've just got to see how he comes back from the Achilles. We know he's an elite hitter in the batter's box, and we'll see how he moves around at second base."

The Nationals were in a similar position about a year ago, when was recovering from offseason knee surgery but insisted he would be ready to start the season on time. Washington went on to sign Kendrick to a two-year deal later in the offseason, which turned out to be much-needed insurance.

Kendrick batted .303/.331/.474 for 112 wRC+ in 40 games until he suffered his season-ending injury in May. The Nats would be betting he could return to a productive level, even at the age of 35 and coming off a major injury. But Kendrick has not played more than 100 games since 2016, and it is unclear what playing time restrictions he would enter with next season. And the Nationals cannot know for sure until Spring Training.

"Right now I don't see any limitations. I can do what I can do, but I think February will tell me when I get there," Kendrick said. "Right now, everything's been feeling good. I feel great. I feel like I could sprint now, but in reality, I'd be dumb to do that. I feel good. I feel like where we're at right now is a really good spot."