Howard. That’s what his wife, Jody, and his family members call the Angels’ second baseman, known in the baseball world as Howie Kendrick. I tried calling him Howard in print for a time last season — he told me it didn’t matter one way or another to him — but it seemed to confuse readers, so I went back to Howie.
He told me this morning that he became Howie after a baseball card company asked if it could call him Howie rather than Howard. It picked up momentum when he was in the minor leagues, and he’s been Howie ever since — even though those close to him call him Howard.
So … on to the news of the day. When the season opens and he’s announced as Howie Kendrick at Angel Stadium, he could be in the No. 2 spot in the order, between Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu. It was manager Mike Scioscia’s initial plan to bat the highly selective Abreu second, followed by Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter. But Kendrick’s strong spring and growth as a hitter seems to be moving Scioscia toward a new look.
I love the idea of Kendrick batting second, the more I think about it. For one thing, it will give him as many as 70 to 80 more at-bats than he would get hitting down in the order, and this guy could be a batting champion very soon. He drives the ball to all fields and doesn’t strike out a lot, and he’s an exceptional baserunner. Figgins likes the idea of Howie hitting behind him, and Abreu has batted third most of his career. So it makes sense on a number of levels.
Scioscia made an interesting point about why Kendrick doesn’t walk more. He squares up balls and puts them in play at a high rate. But he is learning how to work counts, and he’s totally into the game. Reggie Willits, one of the smartest guys I’ve been around, hit in front of Kendrick in the minors and thinks Howard has everything you’re looking for in a No. 2 hitter.
We’ll see where it goes from here. Scioscia has been known to experiment with lineups. Maicer Izturis also is highly capable of being a solid No. 2 hitter, and Erick Aybar also has made strides in his selectivity. But Kendrick is a special hitter — a “freak of nature,” Willits calls him, with utmost respect. , ,
Brandon Wood apparently is serious about making a point. He wants to be on the Angels’ Opening Day roster.
Serving as designated hitter on Tuesday against Indians right-hander Carl Pavano, Wood unloaded a three-run homer in the second inning after getting ahead 2-1 in the count. Howie Kendrick and Juan Rivera had singled in front of Wood, whose homer was his second of the spring and gave the Angels a 3-2 lead.
Wood is 10-for-21 (.476) after the homer with 20 total bases for a .952 slugging percentage. He is trying to bang his way into the lineup at shortstop or third base.
Few, if any, Angels players are as popular with teammates as Maicer Izturis, who might just be the nicest guy on our planet. He’s always in a good mood, always smiling, always optimistic. Even a few days after the surgery to repair a thumb fracture that ended his season prematurely last August, Izzy was upbeat, quietly talking about the possibility of returning for the postseason — and he almost made it.
Izzy was in the middle of an early-morning conversation on Saturday with Chone Figgins, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar. It was the familiar, good-natured kind of dialogue that passes the time before the players hit the field.
“Look,” Kendrick said, pointing to the nameplate above Izturis’ locker with the No. 13. “Maicer has a new number this year.”
Izturis, ever so softly, mentioned that it holds no superstition for him, that he’s worn No. 13 in the past. He was No. 6 last year. That number has gone to Hainley Statia, who is among a half-dozen quality shortstops in camp. Bobby Abreu will adorn No. 53, with Brian Fuentes taking No. 40, Troy Percival’s old number.
When a visitor mentioned to Izturis that No. 13 has worked out all right for Alex Rodriguez, Figgins shook his head. “No A-Rod talk here,” he said, grinning.
Kendrick mentioned that Izturis packs some wallop for a little guy standing 5-foot-8, recalling how Izzy had homered in consecutive games as the club’s leadoff man last season.
“That won’t happen this year,” Figgins said, having established as his early goal a full 162-game season.
Izturis is sound physically and looking forward to competing with good buddy Aybar for the shortstop job again after they shared it in 2008, with Brandon Wood getting some time there with both players out in September.
Garret Anderson remains a popular topic of clubhouse conversation, players speculating where their former teammate will land. The consensus is that he’ll be a steal for somebody, that he has a lot of life left in his bat.
If manager Mike Scioscia needed any ammo to fire up his troops, it was grooved like a Doc Gooden fastball at the belt by stat maven Nate Silver in his PECOTA ratings for Baseball Prospectus.
Silver, it turns out, doesn’t think much of the Halos — specifically, what he sees as an aging offense creating more headaches for Angels pitchers than rival managers. PECOTA has the Angels finishing 16 games off their MLB-best 2008 pace with a mere 84 wins, barely managing to prevail in what it envisions as a weak AL West.
I can understand some anticipated slippage with Mark Teixeira and Garret Anderson departing; those are two high-quality offensive players. But Bobby Abreu has been a fairly consistent 100/100 man (runs. RBIs), and he should fit nicely between Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero in Scioscia’s projected top third. Of course, a big spring by Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar or Maicer Izturis could convince Scioscia to plant Abreu in the No. 3 hole, with Guerrero fourth and Torii Hunter fifth.
The rest of the lineup is deep and potentially much more explosive than PECOTA imagines. Mike Napoli has the tools to go 30/100 with enough at-bats, joining Guerrero on a surgically-repaired knee, and Hunter, Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera all are capable of exceeding 20 homers with 80 to 100 RBIs. If Hunter bats fourth, behind Vlad, he could surpass his career high of 107 RBIs from 2007.
Call me an incurable optimist, but this shapes up as a pretty fair attack — and it has a nice blend of youth and experience, top to bottom.
It was last year at this time that a lot of snipers were relegating the Angels to second place in the AL West behind Seattle, with its new ace, Erik Bedard. Scioscia, I’m sure, got some clubhouse mileage out of that. I’m sure PECOTA and its views might surface in one of his pre-game chats with the players before too long.