Angels’ Howie Kendrick has answer for playoff pressure: ‘Just play the game’
If ever there was a player who needed a change of scenery this season, it was Howie Kendrick, who was batting .231 -- 75 points below his career average -- with 38 strikeouts and 10 walks when the Angels demoted him to triple-A Salt Lake on June 12.
“He had to relax and find his swing,” Manager Mike Scioscia said Wednesday. “He was pressing every at-bat. He felt such a sense of duty to contribute, he was tying himself up in knots.”
Kendrick batted .346 in 20 games for Salt Lake and was recalled by the Angels on July 3. From July 4 on, Kendrick was the major leagues’ top batter with a .351 average (66 for 188) that pushed his season-ending mark to .291 with 10 home runs and 61 runs batted in.
“The [demotion] helped me learn to just play the game, to not think about pressure situations, to not try to do too much,” Kendrick said. “Just play the game for what it is, not what it could be.”
The Angels need Kendrick to maintain that relaxed approach tonight when he starts at second base in Game 1 of the American League division series against the Boston Red Sox in Angel Stadium.
Kendrick acknowledges he put too much pressure on himself in last October’s division series loss to Boston, in which he hit .118 (two for 17) with seven strikeouts and at times looked unsure in the field.
But Scioscia says Kendrick, who platoons at second with Maicer Izturis, is ready for the pressure of playoff baseball.
“There’s been a big change since he’s come back, not only in the mechanical stuff, like getting comfortable in the box and with different types of swings, but from a growth standpoint,” Scioscia said.
“He understands he was trying to do too much at times, and he’s feeling comfortable right now. He doesn’t have to carry the team.”
One thing Torii Hunter, a .316 career hitter in 25 postseason games, loves about October is the adrenaline rush he gets in the playoffs, though that can backfire on you.
The Angels center fielder was so upset about being called out on a close play in Game 2 of last year’s division series that he jumped in frustration and landed awkwardly on his left knee, injuring it. Replays showed Hunter was out.
“Don’t drink coffee,” Hunter said. “You don’t want to do anything to boost you up. Then you’ll argue with an ump and hurt your knee like I did last year. I thought I was safe, and I wasn’t. I had two cups of coffee that day. My adrenaline was going like I had 20 cups.”
After playing long toss for 10 minutes at 150 feet on Tuesday, reliever Jason Bulger, who had a cortisone injection in his sore shoulder Sunday, threw in the bullpen Wednesday and said he was “confident” he would be activated for the series.