Avoiding injuries becomes a key issue for the Angels' Howie Kendrick

The fractured fingers that sent him to the disabled list twice and caused him to miss 10 weeks of the 2007 season, Howie Kendrick could do little about. They were fluke injuries, caused by pitches that hit him.

The hamstring strains that forced him to the DL twice and sidelined him for 10 weeks of 2008, Kendrick could do plenty about, and the Angels second baseman devoted much of his winter to preventing any relapses in 2009.

"One of the biggest things for me will be to stay hydrated and to keep the same regimen all year," said Kendrick, who will join the Angels for workouts Tuesday. "I need to maintain my smaller muscles, like the hip flexor, to help avoid hamstring injuries."

Working with trainers from the Pro Advantage facility in Tempe, Kendrick, who lives in Arizona during the off-season, developed a new routine that focused on core muscles and targeted some of the smaller muscle groups he may have ignored in the past.

"If smaller muscles around the larger muscles aren't strong, then your larger muscles have to work harder," Kendrick said. "It definitely opened my eyes."

Kendrick, 25, has been opening eyes with his bat since he was drafted in 2002. He has one of baseball's purest swings, squaring up the ball with such regularity that he hit .360 in 1,540 minor league at-bats. He is a career .306 hitter in 945 big league at-bats.

But injuries limited Kendrick to 88 games in 2007, his first full year in the big leagues, and 92 games in 2008. If the Angels are to contend for a World Series, it would help if Kendrick remains in the lineup for something closer to a full season, not a half-season.

"He's still a young player, but you definitely want to see him get those 500, 600 plate appearances to get a baseline of just where he's going offensively," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Everything points to a guy who is going to be an impact player, but we want to get him out there every day to evaluate that part."

Kendrick was batting .500 when he suffered his first left hamstring strain on a cool, overcast afternoon in Seattle last April 13. He sat out the next six weeks.

He returned on May 30 and played three injury-free months, his average never falling below .300, before aggravating the hamstring Aug. 27 against Oakland.

Kendrick had three hits in 15 at-bats during the final week of the regular season and declared himself fit for the playoffs, but he struggled against Boston in the American League division series, going two for 17 (.118) and stranding 18 runners in four games.

Kendrick didn't have too much time to dwell on it. His wife, Jody, gave birth to the couple's first child, a boy, on Christmas Day.

"It was just amazing, the whole birth process, the labor," Kendrick said. "I don't know how you can believe there isn't a God when you see something like that."

Ahead of schedule

Kelvim Escobar took another significant step in his return from shoulder surgery Friday, throwing 20-25 pitches off a mound to a catcher who was 55 feet -- instead of the normal 60 feet -- away.

Escobar was not expected to return until around the All-Star break, but if the veteran right-hander continues to progress as he has this spring, he could return in May.

Slow going

Catcher Mike Napoli said he is "sick of being discouraged" by his slower-than-expected return from shoulder surgery, which has prevented him from throwing this spring.

Napoli has been strengthening the shoulder with exercises, and Scioscia said he could begin a throwing program by the end of this week.



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