Angels Manager Mike Scioscia has made some unorthodox moves — remember Orlando Palmeiro batting third in 2002 and Maicer Izturis hitting cleanup last season? — but this one seemed right out of left field.
Howie Kendrick, the team’s regular second baseman and part-time first baseman, started in left field in place of the injured Vernon Wells on Tuesday night.
Kendrick played a little outfield in high school but had never played there in 11 professional seasons. He didn’t even have an outfield glove — he borrowed one from Torii Hunter.
But the more you listened to the parties involved in the decision, the more it made sense, and the more it seemed like a permanent solution until Wells (right groin strain) comes off the disabled list.
“Howie is athletic, he should have good range, and he’s looked good shagging out there,” Scioscia said. “There might be a learning curve, but we’ll absorb it so we can have a deeper lineup.”
With Kendrick in left, Scioscia can play switch-hitters Izturis (second base) and Alberto Callaspo (third base) most days and give Bobby Abreu, whose defensive skills have declined, more time at designated hitter than in the outfield.
First baseman Mark Trumbo, who leads the team with six homers and 17 runs batted in, will play more.
“This gives our lineup a deeper look for a longer period of time,” Scioscia said.
Kendrick was hardly fazed by the assignment, which was similar to a switch he made in 2006, when the Angels asked Kendrick, then a rookie, to move to first base, a position he had never played.
Kendrick has started 60 games at first, including seven this season, and he has developed into a reliable defender there.
“I’m not going to stress about it,” Kendrick said. “If I did, it would probably be worse. I’m just going to play, and the only way to get a feel for it is to play in a game.”
Kendrick worked with outfield coach Dino Ebel on Tuesday afternoon and got a better feel for how balls come off the bat in batting practice.
“We presented it to him and he was like, ‘Let’s go,’ he didn’t even hesitate, which is good,” Ebel said. “He has confidence. It’s not like today is the first time he’s taken fly balls out there.”
Kendrick’s first night on the job in left was fairly easy. He was never tested, handling only one ball in seven innings, a soft single by Alexei Ramirez in the sixth. He moved to first base in the eighth, with Reggie Willits taking over in left.
Kendrick’s biggest challenge, Ebel said, won’t be to make a spectacular play.
“Just get in a comfortable spot, hit the cutoff man, catch the fly balls,” Ebel said. “Seeing a different spin off the bat will be new, but it shouldn’t be shocking to him.”
Kendrick shouldn’t have to worry much about balls in the gap. The speedy Peter Bourjos probably covers more ground than any center fielder in baseball.
“It’s good to know he’s out there,” Kendrick said. “And we have experienced guys like Vernon and Torii. I can pick their brains.”
An MRI test Tuesday confirmed a right groin strain for Wells, who has already begun treatment. No timetable was set for his return, “but we’re definitely breathing a little easier that it wasn’t really major,” Scioscia said.
First baseman Kendrys Morales, who traveled to Colorado on Tuesday for a second opinion on his surgically repaired left ankle, will meet with the Angels’ medical team Wednesday to determine his next course of treatment.
Scott Kazmir threw 100 pitches in an extended spring-training game Monday in Arizona, but it took the left-hander five innings to do it. Kazmir will probably make at least one more start in Arizona before beginning a minor league rehabilitation assignment.