Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick completes a double play while avoiding… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
SEATTLE -- When Howie Kendrick broke into the big leagues in 2006 after hitting .362 in four minor league seasons, many predicted the Angels second baseman would win a batting title one day.
No one ever thought he'd win a Gold Glove Award.
But the perception of Kendrick as a mostly hit, OK-fielding second baseman has changed over the years. He may not wrest the Gold Glove from New York's Robinson Cano and Boston's Dustin Pedroia, who have won four of the last five awards at the position in the American League, but he could force his way into the conversation.
Kendrick has made a number of highlight-reel plays this month, and Friday night he made what he and first base coach Alfredo Griffin, who has worked with Kendrick his entire career, consider the best play he has made.
With two on and two outs in the seventh inning and the Angels leading Seattle, 6-3, Dustin Ackley ripped a grounder that appeared headed to right field.
But Kendrick knocked down the ball with a sprawling dive to his left, scrambled to his feet, picked up the ball in shallow right field, spun about 270 degrees and fired a perfect one-hop throw to the plate to nail Justin Smoak, who was trying to score from second base.
"I would put that one up there as one of my favorite plays because of the game situation," Kendrick, 29, said. "I just reacted. I didn't think about it. I got the ball and threw it."
Considering he was spinning while throwing, it's a miracle the ball didn't wind up in the first base dugout. Kendrick's instincts prevented that.
"It's funny, when you play long enough at this level, and you've made so many throws home, you can almost close your eyes and throw to the plate," Kendrick said. "If I'm on second turning a double play, I know where first base is. The base hasn't moved in over 100 years. Your body knows what to do. You could almost close your eyes and throw."
Kendrick actually does close his eyes on some throws to first. In batting practice. It's one of many drills he has used to improve his feel for a position that didn't always come naturally to him.
As a youngster, Kendrick was more mechanical, his hands were a little rigid, and he struggled to make backhand plays. Gradually, his hands softened, he improved going to his right, and he became a rock on the double-play pivot.
"It's been a long process," Kendrick said. "Over time, you start to understand the hitters, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and I think you start to play more fearlessly. That's the biggest thing."
Could Kendrick win a Gold Glove?
"Oh yeah," Griffin said. "He's come a long way defensively."
Center fielder Peter Bourjos has been playing for a week and a half with tightness in the back of his throwing shoulder, a condition he's getting treatment for but "doesn't affect me in games," he said. … Erick Aybar (bruised left heel) played seven innings in an extended spring-training game Saturday, but Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said the shortstop will need at least another game or two in Arizona before being activated.