Howie Kendrick is fitting in as Angels' latest leadoff batter

The leadoff spot in the Angels' batting order has been a case of musical chairs this season.

But the latest player atop the lineup, hot-hitting second baseman Howie Kendrick, has given the Angels the spark they needed.

Batting first for the second consecutive game, Kendrick on Wednesday had a single, a walk and two stolen bases as the Angels rolled past the Cleveland Indians, 7-1.


The victory lifted the Angels' record to 14-13, the first time they've been above .500 since opening day last year, when they defeated the Reds in Cincinnati, 3-1. It was the longest span the Angels had stayed below .500 since the 1970s.


Kendrick was the fifth player to lead the batting order in the team's first 27 games.

And Kendrick, a career .292 hitter at the start of the season, took over the first batting spot while already having a good start to the season at the plate.

Kendrick, who was hitting .234 two weeks ago, has since batted 20 for 55 over his last 14 games to lift his average to .296.

The Angels opened the year with Kole Calhoun batting first. But the right fielder sprained his right ankle in mid-April and went on the disabled list.

That was a week after outfielder Josh Hamilton also went on the disabled list after injuring his left thumb.

So the club then tried four other players in the leadoff spot: Collin Cowgill; J.B. Shuck, who was called up from triple-A Salt Lake to replace Hamilton; Erick Aybar and Kendrick.

Kendrick and Cowgill said batting first wouldn't affect how they go about hitting.

"The leadoff spot is just another spot in the lineup," said Cowgill, who has batted first in seven games this season. "The only time you're really the leadoff hitter is the first at-bat of the game. It doesn't change your approach."

Perhaps. But Manager Mike Scioscia said that with Calhoun sidelined, the team has tried different leadoff batters because they play a crucial role for the sluggers behind them.

"It's not just [being] a leadoff hitter, you're talking about a guy who's got to hit in front of Mike [Trout] and Albert [Pujols]" and to "set the table for the middle of the lineup," Scioscia said.

Shuck batted first in seven games this season but went into a slump. Before getting a single Tuesday night, the left fielder was hitless in his previous 22 at-bats. Shuck batted ninth Wednesday, was one for four and is batting .156.

"J.B. was fine leading off ... but J.B.'s struggling," said Scioscia, who added that the Angels want to see him hitting better before putting him atop the batting order again.

"It's the grouping you're looking for, you're looking to connect somebody with Mike and with Albert," Scioscia said. "Right now we'll go with Howie."

Don Baylor pays a visit

Angels hitting coach Don Baylor visited the Angels' clubhouse Tuesday for the first time since he suffered a broken right thigh bone while catching the ceremonial first pitch on opening day, Scioscia said.

Baylor, 64, was in a walker as he talked to the coaching staff and players, Scioscia said, adding that Baylor "still has a ways to go before we're going to see him in the dugout."

Twitter: @PeltzLATimes