Howie Kendrick hits one a long, long way


SURPRISE, Ariz. – Howie Kendrick saw a breaking ball from ex-Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Joe Beimel hanging in the air and put a good, hard swing on it.

“I kind of thought I missed it a little bit,” Kendrick said.

The ball landed near a row of hedges about 50 feet up a grassy knoll from the center-field fence, which stands 400 feet from home plate at Surprise Stadium, the spring home of the Texas Rangers.

“I guess the wind was blowing today,” Kendrick said, to which Jimmy Rollins, getting dressed a few feet away, chimed in, “In other words, I’ve never hit one that well.”

Kendrick, the Dodgers’ new second baseman, is a different kind of hitter. A stocky man with thick arms, Kendrick tends to hit his home runs a long way when he hits them. He just doesn’t hit very many of them. A line-drive hitter with an opposite-field approach, Kendrick hit just seven home runs for the Angels last season in 674 plate appearances. Despite a lack of long-ball power, Kendrick has a lifetime .424 slugging percentage because he averages 37 doubles a season.

“I think he is a gap-to-gap guy, kind of uses the whole field,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “I never really looked at him as a big home run guy, but I always looked at him as a really good hitter.”

The Dodgers preferred Kendrick to speedster Dee Gordon as their second baseman because of his ability to make good contact and his reliability in the field. The Dodgers traded Gordon to the Miami Marlins for a package of players that included left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney, who they traded to the Angels for Kendrick, a .292 lifetime hitter.

Kendrick is batting .363 this spring and said he likes the way his swing feels.

“Spring training is about seeing as many pitches as I can and getting reps,” Kendrick said. “If it means hitting the ball hard like that, I’ll take it all day.”

He and Rollins are both becoming habituated to new double-play partners: Each other. Rollins spent 12 years with Chase Utley in Philadelphia and Kendrick was paired with Erick Aybar coming up through the Angels' system and in Anaheim starting in 2006. The two veterans have been almost inseparable this spring.

“We like them to be comfortable with each other, that’s for sure,” Mattingly said. “Guys do so much work together nowadays, that it gets comfortable together pretty quick, but they were talking right away.”