In the midst of another anemic offensive performance, another bullpen meltdown and yet another defeat at the hand of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Dodgers found one small piece of good news to salvage Sunday night: Howie Kendrick is back in the game.
Kendrick had missed four consecutive games because of an ailing right knee but said recently he was confident the injury would not send him to the disabled list.
Before Saturday’s game, Manager Don Mattingly had already said Kendrick, who took ground balls during warmups, would be available off the bench, but the second baseman did not make an appearance in a 2-0 victory.
Before the first pitch Sunday, Mattingly said he was hopeful Kendrick would be back in the lineup for Monday’s series opener against the Diamondbacks. Roughly five hours later, he called upon the second baseman to make his return a day early.
With the Dodgers leading, 2-1, in the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs in another nail-biter, Mattingly performed a double switch, pulling starter Zack Greinke, who was batting ninth, and second baseman Enrique Hernandez, who was batting seventh, and putting in Hendrick and reliever Adam Liberatore, batting in Greinke’s and Hernandez’s spots, respectively.
Kendrick showed some rust in his first plate appearance back, sending a bat flying into the stands after a swing and striking out on a foul tip, but his return to an offense that has struggled mightily over the last two weeks was welcome all the same and means the team is primed for a breakout, catcher Yasmani Grandal said.
“The good thing is, you want to keep on hitting hard balls,” Grandal said. “The guys that have been hitting are still hitting. Joc [Pederson]’s still hitting, [Justin] Turner’s still hitting, [Adrian Gonzalez] is still hitting. Kendrick is coming back … so I think we’re in a good spot.”
Kendrick is batting .284, fifth among National League second baseman, and is third in that category with five home runs. The Dodgers, however, have seen their bats go cold as of late, scoring only six runs in the four-game set against the Cardinals.
“Not real sure to say one thing or the other,” Mattingly said when asked why his team was having trouble scoring runs. “We’ve got to consistently just continue to have good at-bats and get guys back in there.”
Sunday night, the Cardinals’ rallied with three runs in the eighth inning.
Afterward, Kendrick declined to comment on the game, but did briefly say his knee felt fine, clearing the way for a probable start Monday night and a much-needed full return for the Dodgers.