All of these Phillies have a job to do. Aaron Nola is supposed to stay healthy and get a haircut, Jerad Eickhoff is tasked with keeping a plentiful wooden spoon supply in his locker so that he has something to chew through in frustration of his run support other than his tongue, and I don’t know what Freddy Galvis’ job was before, but now it’s to log long, effective at-bats against Stephen Strasburg and share his secrets with the rest of the lineup.
But on young teams, the veterans have a distinct, well known role: set examples knowing you might not be around as long as the others. The Phillies imported a pair of vets in the offseason, having burned through their dwindling supply of former core players from the previous generation. Now Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick are here, a pair of acquisitions un-hated by mostly everyone. But Kendrick has been very here in the season’s first six games in a way that is encouraging for anyone looking for early season narratives to push.
Starting on opening day, Kendrick was slotted into the two-hole behind Cesar Hernandez, giving him the Phillies’ second at-bat of the year. By then, there had been one whole at-bat before him, meaning we had all the data we needed to judge this team and their 2017 team in its entirety (Hernandez homered, bringing a sense of positivism to the South Philly Sports Complex not felt since Joel Embiid was still healthy). However, umpires had not stopped the game for being purposeless, so we got to see the 33-year-old’s inaugural Phillies moment. He swatted a ground ball single before being neutralized on Odubel Herrera’s subsequent double play ball.
In his second at-bat, Kendrick pushed a devilish grounder to the left of Reds pitcher Scott Feldman, taking him just far enough out of his way that Kendrick was able to reach first safely. It wasn’t until the fifth inning, with the Phillies holding a 3-1 opening day lead (???!?!) that Kendrick put the bat on the ball and boomed a double to deep center field that would have eventually scored him, if fellow experience-haver Michael Saunders had been able to do more than ground out to first base a couple batters later.
The following game, Kendrick worked his first walk, but the hitting took a night off, despite a couple sharply hit, deep ground balls. Then it was home to Philadelphia for the Nationals, a team with a far superior pitching staff, and also rest of the team, than the Reds. But still, Kendrick was undeterred, doubling off Max Scherzer in the fourth inning between yeah, okay, a pair of swinging strikeouts. He singled off Enny Romero later in the game to try and contribute to the Phillies’ squabbling, six-run comeback attempt, and even gave fans a start with a deep fly ball to right after Freddy Galvis homered down the deficit to a single run.
The frustration didn’t last long as the Kendrick and the Phillies faced the beleaguered Jeremy Guthrie the following night and did unspeakable things. Kendrick went 3-for-5 with 4 RBI himself, singling and tripling (something he did only twice last year) with the bases loaded in the first inning alone, despite a violent collision with no one at third base. The Nats marched out their clean-up crew, and Kendrick made hard outs off Romero and Joe Blanton before adding a dagger with an RBI single off Oliver Perez for the Phillies’ 15th and not final run of the evening. And yesterday, in the Phillies’ walk-off win made necessary by Jeanmar Gomez’s opposite of heroics, he made up for a pair of early strikeouts off Stephen Strasburg by crushing a solidly hit double to left center that scored Cesar Hernandez and gave the Phillies a 3-0 lead over the NL East favorites. He almost got a chance to cap the madness off with a walk-off hit himself, but Hernandez took care of business before Kendrick could get to the plate.
This is not a statement that Kendrick is “back” or “here” in a way that would make Angels and Dodgers fans scoff and elbow each other knowingly. Kendrick struggled last season and missed time due to injury in 2015 and 2013. But in the season’s early dawn, we look for players to make an immediate impact, and anyone reviewing the statistics will tell you, this vet has made one (did you know he doesn’t pop out that much?). And not just the one shaped like his body in the dirt around third base.