Halos doubly tough at second
Kendrick, Izturis provide West champs with superb duo
ANAHEIM -- It's no secret that Howard Kendrick struggled against the Red Sox in last year's American League Division Series.
After all, the second baseman hit just .118 with two hits in 17 at-bats against Boston as the Angels fell in four games.
It was easy to blame Kendrick's struggles on nerves but it wasn't his first time in the postseason as he was also the team's starting second baseman against the Red Sox in the 2007 postseason.
Instead, it's often forgotten that Kendrick missed nearly a month with a hamstring injury down the stretch and had just six games to get his swing back in order for the ALDS.
But this year, it's a different story for Kendrick, who is entering the postseason healthy and has a more than capable platoon partner in Maicer Izturis to erase any outside pressure.
"I missed a lot of time with a hamstring pull and came back in September but this year is different," said Kendrick, who will start Game 1 on Thursday night at 6:37 p.m. PT with left-hander Jon Lester on the mound. "I'm healthy, and everybody's healthy, and we're in that groove."
Kendrick and Izturis have certainly been in a groove offensively this season as the two second basemen combined for a .296 batting average, 18 home runs, 24 stolen bases and an eye-popping 121 RBIs.
But it wasn't that way the whole season as Kendrick struggled at the plate early to the tune of a .231 batting average through June 11 that caused him to be sent to Triple-A Salt Lake.
Kendrick, though, batted .346 in 20 games with the Bees and regained his stroke in a short amount of time before hitting a Major League-best .366 from his return on July 11 to the end of the season with the Angels.
Kendrick was able to fix his swing down in the Minors and also clear his head of the problems that plagued him earlier in the season. But after his return, Angels manager Mike Scioscia saw a big difference in Kendrick.
"I think there's a big change in Howie, not only from a mechanical standpoint in the batter's box but also from a growth period of understanding he was trying to do a little too much at times," Scioscia said. "I think he's very, very confident right now and he knows he doesn't have to go out there and carry a team.
"And I think by doing that and maybe taking a half-step back, he's become of a more well-rounded player from the defense he's played and the way even runs the bases to his situational hitting."
So ever since that change, Kendrick and Izturis became platoon partners, with the right-handed Kendrick batting against lefties and the switch-hitting Izturis starting against right-handers.
It's a strategy that has worked, with Kendrick batting .313 against southpaws this season and Izturis batting .286 against right-handers. And because of that success, there are no hard feelings between the two players, even though they'd like to play every day.
"It's all about winning now," Kendrick said. "I'm a competitive guy and I want to play, like everybody else, but I understand what kind of talent we have on this team."
Izturis' presence will be huge for the Angels this postseason as he brings versatility with his ability to not only play second base but shortstop and third base as well. And of course, he also batted .300 with eight home runs and 65 RBIs this season to complement his excellent defense.
But Izturis missed last postseason with a broken thumb, while Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar struggled.
"He could have been a big 'X' factor," Scioscia said. "Izzy would have been very important to what we tried to do. Not having him was obviously tough. I think he can do a lot to our lineup -- and we'll see it."
Izturis will get that chance in Game 2 starting against right-hander Josh Beckett. Both Kendrick and Izturis will continue to platoon throughout the postseason and it's a combination that Izturis thinks will work out just fine.
"He'll play against lefties and I'll play against righties and we respect that because it comes from Scioscia," Izturis said. "He's been great since coming back from Triple-A and I'm just happy to contribute to the team. So hopefully together we can take it to the next step."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.