Reporting from St. Petersburg, Fla.
Howie Kendrick has never lacked for talent, especially when it comes to swinging a bat.
High praise for a guy whose career average is on the wrong side of .300. But then skill alone is not enough to assure success at the big league level.
So now, six seasons into his major league career, Kendrick is adding wisdom and experience. And so far the combination seems to be working.
"It just comes down to having more at-bats and more playing time," said Kendrick, who reached base three times and scored once Wednesday in the Angels' 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. "You understand the game more the more games you play. You get in certain situations and you don't really panic as much.
"I would say I'm a better player than I was last year."
The numbers agree. Six games into the season, Kendrick leads the team in five major offensive categories, including hits (10), home runs (three) and on-base percentage (.517). Plus he has hit safely in all six games, scored seven runs and walked five times, the same amount of walks he drew in the first five weeks last season.
"Howie's doing a terrific job of not only swinging the bat, but setting the table," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "When you're talking about a guy that's going to hit in front of the middle of your lineup, that's what you're looking for. And he's off to a terrific start."
Kendrick got the Angels going Wednesday, walking with one out in the first inning then scoring on Bobby Abreu's hit-and-run double into the right-field corner. Alberto Callaspo made it 2-0 in the fourth inning with a home run that landed halfway up the right-field stands.
That would prove to be all the support Dan Haren would need because the right-hander was superb, giving up only four hits — one a home run by B.J. Upton — and striking out six in 72/3 innings. And for the third consecutive start, dating to last season, he did not walk a batter. Haren exited in favor of Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden, who combined to retire the final four Rays in order.
But back to the offense. If Kendrick, who played second base, owes his fast start to wisdom, then how to explain rookie Mark Trumbo, who had the first three-hit game of his career? Known as a free-swinging slugger, Trumbo singled three times — once to each field — stole a base and made a sterling defensive play at first base.
"I'd like to show people that I'm not just one-dimensional," said Trumbo, who scored one run and drove in another. "I've worked really hard at it. And it's hard to sometimes shake those labels.
"As I get more opportunity, I think I'll be able to show some people I can bring a little more to the table than what they might think."