Kendrick is a hit with glove, too
Second baseman takes pride in how far defense has come
ANAHEIM -- For Howie Kendrick, hitting a baseball is a natural act. He does it freely and easily, as if there is nothing to it, even though it's widely considered the most difficult task in sports -- with the possible exception of chasing Tiger Woods when he's wearing Angels red on Sunday.
Kendrick took a .333 batting average into Saturday's game against the Yankees at Angel Stadium. He's batting .345 at home, .320 on the road, .412 with runners in scoring position. Lifetime, he's hitting .313 in 230 games.
And he clearly responds to a challenge. The Angels second baseman is batting .455 in 32 career games against the Yankees and Red Sox combined, with a .620 slugging percentage. His numbers against the Bronx Bombers are surreal: .507 average, .690 slugging percentage.
Here's the kicker: Kendrick, 25, is just as driven to take away hits as he is to deliver them.
"Defense is something I've had to work so hard on," he said after contributing four hits and several sparkling defensive plays in Friday night's 10-5 win over the Yanks. "That's where I was lacking earlier in my career, and I've focused more on defense than offense.
"Some guys, like [shortstops] Orlando Cabrera, Erick Aybar and [Maicer] Izturis, are born with a glove. For me, it wasn't like hitting, something I had the ability to do. Nobody really taught me the fundamentals of defense until I got in pro ball."
A 10th-round pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft out of St. John's River Community College in Palatka, Fla., and one of super scout Tom Kotchman's many discoveries, Kendrick was a .359 career Minor League hitter. But he was rough defensively, and it was as a first baseman primarily that he broke in with the Angels in 2006, with Adam Kennedy at second base.
"From where he was four years ago, it's night and day with Howie," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's really turning the double play well, his range is terrific. He's playing a very high-level second base."
Kendrick's .988 fielding percentage is eighth among regular Major League second basemen.
"Of all our infielders, I think Howie has improved the most," said Angels coach Alfredo Griffin, who has spent countless hours honing Kendrick's skills.
"I want to be a complete player," Kendrick said. "You can help your team out defensively -- and running the bases -- even if you're not having a good night with the bat. I've put in a lot of work with Alfredo Griffin and with our shortstops.
"Orlando Cabrera helped me a lot. He'd tell me how to take an extra step back on some balls to get a better look at the ball. I've watched how guys do things and put that into my game. When I heard that Mark Ellis of the A's said he did everything on the field in batting practice with a purpose, I started doing that, too."
The hit man, it turns out, can do it all.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.