Closing Time: Howie Kendrick, working class hero

Howie Kendrick, man on the run (AP)

A lot of would-be scribes get into this racket because they want to talk about the big names, the Trouts, the Harpers, the Mookies, the Kershaws.

Me, I’m all about the working class heroes. Give me a column and I want to talk about Howie Kendrick.

If you’re a fantasy veteran, you remember Kendrick from the previous decade. Came up to the Angels in 2006, was expected to win a few batting titles down the road. Kendrick never quite developed into that kind of a player, but he was generally a good source of average, with some category juice thrown in. He was a five-win player at his peak.

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Kendrick’s near the end of his career in 2017, a month shy of his 34th birthday. But he might have some usefulness left in the tank. The Phillies use Kendrick in the meat of their order — he always slots second, third or fourth — and he had an interesting game Monday at Boston.

Kendrick rapped out three hits in six at-bats, and also stole three bases. A fourth steal attempt was narrowly snuffed out in the ninth inning. Throw in two fielding errors and it was a night of Kendrick adventure, fingerprints all over the boxscore. He’s now sitting at .353/.409/.529 through 22 games, with two homers and seven bags. An oblique injury kept him down for about six weeks.

Kendrick has started in 13 of the last 15 games, so he definitely has a role on this club. He qualifies at four Yahoo positions — first, second, third and the outfield. Obviously the slash line is over Kendrick’s head, but so long as he maintains the gig, the lineup slot, and the willingness to run, I’m interested. Kendrick is a grab-and-go in 84 percent of Yahoo leagues.

• We’re not weathermen here, but we can tell which way the wind blows. The Atlanta-Washington game was played in a sweltering Nationals Park, turning the grounds into a launching pad. When you saw Nick Markakis reach the seats on a lazy opposite-field fly in the first inning, you knew crooked numbers were possible.

By the end of the night, the Braves had five homers and an 11-10 victory. The criminally-underowned Matt Adams conked two of them, and Tyler Flowers had the game-flipper in the ninth. Like the Markakis homer, Flowers didn’t really catch his tater — it was an opposite-field fly ball that kept carrying and carrying on a humid night. Pity the poor pitchers. (It’s a shame Flowers doesn’t play more, because he’s been the poor man’s Alex Avila. Look at that juicy .338/.442/.468).

Matt Albers served up the Flowers homer, a shame because he finally made it to the front of the Washington closing line. He’s been sharp for most of the year: 2.10 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 30 K, just 6 BB (two of them Monday). It’s convenient to rip the Nationals bullpen and move along, but maybe the club will see this misstep for what it was. If you’re save speculating on Albers, I wouldn’t jump ship yet.

• We’re learning not to bet against Jameson Taillon. A blown-out elbow didn’t derail his bright young career, and now he’s made a ridiculously-quick recovery from testicular cancer. Taillon’s first game back with Pittsburgh passed the eye test: 5 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K.

Here’s some video, to warm your baseball heart. Tallion wound up at 82 pitches; look for a few more in the weekend turn against the Cubs. He’s approved for use anywhere you’re lucky enough to have him. Jameson, neat.

• Are the Astros too dominant for their own good? Houston’s raced out to a 12-game lead in the AL West, and it’s difficult to see anyone in the division challenging them. This team already has an eye out for October.

With that in mind, we can’t be surprised when they handle some of their pitchers with kid gloves. Monday, Lance McCullers (back) went on the 10-day DL. No one is talking about the injury in a worrisome manner, but you can’t blame the team for this approach.


McCullers, of course, has never made it to 160 innings in any professional season. Injuries held him back last year. He’s already at 76.2 frames this year, a pace of about 195. This is a large reason why we were discussing McCullers as a reasonable sell-high the last few weeks.

This is merely connect-the-dot speculation, but perhaps Stephen Strasburg could get the McCullers treatment later this summer. Washington has a big lead in the NL East. Strasburg isn’t the most durable of pitchers. If the talented righty has any kind of body hiccup, it might be prudent for the club to give him a brief break. The Nats are capable of winning it all.

See the forest for the trees. We never told anyone to sell McCullers at all costs (sell high, kids, implies you get a lot coming back), and I’m not saying that with Strasburg, either. Just remember to factor team context and incentive into your long-range fantasy decisions.

Mike Zunino has shown us hot streaks in the past, and they’ve eventually crumbled back to nothing. You have to be careful with this guy. He’s on a .311, five-homer binge since his recall a month back, but he’s also piled up 32 strikeouts (against a modest seven walks).

Given the wasteland of the catcher market, you might want to kick some tires in a two-backstop format. But Zunino is going to be a short-leash guy for me until I see something different in the approach. He’s owned in 12 percent of Yahoo leagues.