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Kendrick stepping up when asked to lead off

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ANAHEIM -- For the sixth time this season and the 17th time in his career, Howie Kendrick found his name at the top of the Angels' lineup card on Saturday at Angel Stadium for an assignment against Royals ace James Shields.

Having spent most of his career batting second or down in the order, Kendrick has adapted well to the leadoff responsibilities with a .409 on-base percentage along with a .316 batting average. His .351 OBP in his 16 career starts leading off compares favorably to his .322 career norm to go with a .293 batting average.

Hitting .311 overall with a .385 on-base percentage this season, Kendrick has drawn 19 walks in 206 plate appearances. He took 23 free passes last season in 513 plate appearances.

"Howie's off to a good start in the batter's box," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who has been mixing and matching at the top of the order during the recent absence of Kole Calhoun. "He's seeing the ball well, starting to draw some walks. The important thing with Howie is not really his walk rate; it's his ability to get a good pitch and square it up.

"He's definitely shown some plate discipline. Leading off, he's responded well to it. He's getting on base, hitting the ball hard. He's been really comfortable in the leadoff spot."

Kendrick is a .565 career hitter in 23 at-bats against Shields, with four doubles, a triple and a homer. One thing Kendrick doesn't want to change as a leadoff hitter is his ability to hammer a first pitch if it's in his happy zone. Putting first pitches in play 18 times this season, he's batting .556 with a .778 slugging percentage.

Kendrick has been most productive this season batting fifth. In 15 starts, he has a .397/.478/.500 line. Batting cleanup 16 times, he has produced two homers and 10 RBIs but his average is .258. He has hit sixth most often in his career, batting .309 with a .450 slugging percentage.

With nine steals (in 11 attempts), Kendrick is five shy of his career high for a season.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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