Washington Nationals: Howie Kendrick wins Opening Day start

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 12: Howie Kendrick /

With Daniel Murphy recovering from off-season surgery, the Washington Nationals turn to Howie Kendrick to play second base.

Howie Kendrick is your Washington Nationals‘ Opening Day second baseman.

Daniel Murphy, still recovering from off-season micro-fracture knee surgery, is not ready for full activity. How long he stays on the sidelines remains a mystery. However, it is clear he will start the season on the disabled list.

If Washington thinks Murphy is close, they can place him on the 10-day DL retroactive to whenever they think he is ready. None of these developments are a surprise. The knee heals at its own pace and not due to a baseball schedule.

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Kendrick winning the fill-in role, however, is a moderate surprise.

Although Grapefruit League statistics and performance mean little, a negative trend does. Wilmer Difo’s struggles in West Palm Beach on both sides of the ball earned him a seat on the bench starting the 2018 regular season. Given the opportunity to win the job, he whiffed.

Instead of reassuring the front office and fans second base was covered in case Murphy leaves after the season for free agency, those whispers are back on the front burner.

Mark Zuckerman of MASN thinks this opens a roster spot for a few players the last week of the pre-season. Matt Reynolds, Reid Brignac and Chris Dominguez are the three infielders with the best chance. Reynolds and Brignac can play both middle infield spots.

For Kendrick, this must feel like old times.

Over his nine years with the Los Angeles Angels, Kendrick played almost 1,000 games at second. He was the Los Angeles Dodgers primary second-bagger in 2015. In his career, he has 9741.1 innings of experience at the position. This is nothing new to him.

Kendrick came to Washington via a July trade with the Philadelphia Phillies last year. In 52 games with the Nats, he carried a strong .293/.343/.494 slash line. Mostly filling in for Jayson Werth in left, Kendrick slammed seven home runs while driving in 25.

As long as Murphy is recovering, Kendrick is fine. Where you worry is if we get into May with no change in the situation.

A healthy Murphy come October is vital for Washington’s playoff chances. You need his double-hitting ability and high batting average to power the offense through tougher pitching. But, he must be healthy when he returns. Injuries hampered the last two years, including a hamstring injury closing out 2016.

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The Nats still hope Difo is ready when he time comes. For now, they are delighted to have Kendrick in the fold.