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Kendrick maturing into tough hitter

Kendrick maturing into tough hitter

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ANAHEIM -- The Angels' season is only a week old, but second baseman Howie Kendrick is already in midseason form at the plate.

The third-year pro spent 67 games on the disabled list in 2007 because of finger injuries, but is making up for lost time quickly.

Kendrick, who entered Sunday's series finale against the Texas Rangers fourth in the American League in hitting at .435, credits patience and added experience at the plate as the major factors for his early-season success.

"We're only a week or so in," said Kendrick, "but I'm just trying to be patient and make adjustments. Patience is something you just have to trust in yourself. You try to get in good hitter's counts, try to work the counts and still be aggressive at the same time."

According to Angels manager Mike Scioscia, Kendrick's strategy in the batter's box is consistent with his overall approach to the game, and it is paying off in other areas as well.

"The biggest strides we've seen in Howie in four years in our system have been in his defensive play," said Scioscia. "He's just a guy who saw a challenge there and worked hard to meet it."

Kendrick's early success had him sitting atop the American League leaderboard in hits (10) going into Sunday's game, and the 24-year-old has hit safely in all six games to begin the year, giving him an 11-game hitting streak dating back to last season.

Kendrick's progress at the plate, when combined with the brawn at the heart of the order -- Vladimir Guerrero, Garret Anderson and Torii Hunter -- is enough to send nightmarish thoughts through an opposing pitcher's head.

"Our lineup is tough," said Kendrick. "Maybe guys are going after those guys more right now, but when everybody is on, we'll be a force to be reckoned with."

How Kendrick's season plays out won't be known until the end of the season, but his track record speaks to what lies ahead. In 4 1/2 Minor League seasons, Kendrick never hit under .318, topping out when he hit at a .384 clip in 63 games for Class A Rancho Cucamonga in 2005.

The numbers are eye-popping, but potentially sustainable because Kendrick stays grounded and is willing to adapt if need be.

"The biggest part of the game is trying to adjust," said the second baseman. "Learning pitchers, seeing pitches, every day you evolve. Every year you become a better player."

Kendrick is off to a fast start this year, and Scioscia doesn't see him slipping anytime soon.

"He's got the right approach to be good for a long time," said the Angels manager. "He's very confident that he can make the adjustments to be successful. Experience is the best teacher, and Howie is certainly making the most of it."

Richie Brand is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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