Veteran Kendrick's sole focus is winning
Second baseman a consistent force for team looking to bounce back
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Jered Weaver and Howie Kendrick arrived in Anaheim together in 2006 with great expectations. Weaver was viewed as a potential ace, while Kendrick was hailed as a future batting champion.
Weaver has fulfilled all expectations: 113 wins, highest winning percentage (.653) among active pitchers; 3.24 ERA, three All-Star Game appearances, three top five Cy Young Award finishes, 2010 srikeout champion, 2012 no-hitter and 20-win season.
Kendrick is a .292 career hitter with a .429 slugging percentage. He's a 2010 All-Star with a career-best 18 homers and has been a solid defender at second base for eight seasons.
If you believe that the inability to win a batting crown or seriously challenge for one makes Kendrick an underachiever, he'll smile and tell you, respectfully, that you're entitled to your opinion. But it won't impact him in any way.
"The older I get," said Kendrick, who turns 31 on July 12, "the less I worry about those things. I'm just going to go play. Winning is everything for me. When you go out and win, the numbers and everything else will be there.
"If I hit .270, .280 and we win, that's fine with me. You can't worry about everybody else's standards and expectations. You have to have your own standards. You care about what this guy next to you thinks -- you don't worry about fans and what they think. The guys in the locker room are what matter. If you put it all out on the field, they know. You can live with that."
Kendrick, who put together a .297/.335/.439 slash line last season, finds comfort and good vibes all around him in the Angels' clubhouse. His locker at Angel Stadium is in the corner formerly occupied by Torii Hunter, his mentor. Kendrick's nearest neighbor is Mike Trout. They communicate, sharing and comparing notes; a bond having formed.
"I respect his demeanor," Kendrick said. "He's the same guy no matter what he does in the game. He just wants to win -- play hard every day and win. For a guy so young to be that poised is impressive. He knows it's about making adjustments. I think his approach, how he works at it, is more impressive than anything."
Kendrick has hit in the same group as Albert Pujols since King Albert's trumpeted arrival from St. Louis.
"He's not one of those vocal guys," Kendrick said, "but you learn from watching everything he does. He'll come talk to you if he sees something you're doing and wants to help. Albert's not just about his own game. Pitcher or position player, he treats everybody equally.
"It's great to see him feeling good [after a frustrating 2013 dealing with plantar fasciitis]. Albert's a guy who likes to hit the ball all over the field, and it's very beneficial to me to see how methodical he is, how he works at it. He's a hitter first -- a hitter with power. Hopefully he can go out and have a great year. He's a force."
The second baseman has taken a strong liking to new teammate Raul Ibanez, who has a locker next to his in the clubhouse at Tempe Diablo Stadium. At 41, Ibanez, who reached 300 career homers last year returning to his original baseball home in Seattle, brings another left-handed weapon to the heart of the order along with Josh Hamilton.
"This guy here is awesome," Kendrick said, nodding toward Ibanez. "We're of the same mind. He's like a big kid who loves the game. I talk to him all the time. He can still swing it. Last year he hit 29 bombs and didn't even play all year [124 games]. He's a great guy to have on a ballclub."
Kendrick feels David Freese -- the third baseman acquired from the Cardinals along with reliever Fernando Salas in exchange for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk -- is another proven performer armed with a winning resume.
"Freese, I like him, too -- good guy," Kendrick said. "The guy's won a World Series, played in two World Series. He's been a World Series [and National League Championship Series] MVP. He's another guy who can lead. He brings a lot to our team."
Like any player who endures in the game, Kendrick absorbs as much knowledge as possible and applies it in the batting cage and on the field.
"Guys who coast don't last long in this game," he said. "You have to make constant adjustments. You always have to change something, small adjustments all the time."
The Angels' 78-84 record last season was their worst in 10 seasons. They haven't made the postseason since claiming their third consecutive AL West title in 2009. Those teams had loaded lineups, dominant starting pitching and quality bullpens.
"It's only Spring Training, but I really like this club," said Kendrick, one of four players left from '09 along with Weaver, Erick Aybar and Kevin Jepsen. "I'll take our lineup, one through nine, any time. And our pitching has been good.
"It feels different. We have guys who love to work. I think chemistry is vital to winning; you have to be in the same mindset. We have a lot of guys in our locker room who are dedicated."
Opening Night is on the horizon, and the Robinson Cano-fueled Mariners provide the challenge on Monday night at Angel Stadium.
Kendrick will be looking to make all the plays and lash line drives. A productive presence for eight years, he doesn't require a batting crown to be fulfilled. A meaningful October will take care of Kendrick's needs.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.