Howie Kendrick is primed to be the Nationals' first-ever everyday designated hitter when the pandemic-shortened 2020 MLB season begins.
It will be a 60-game sprint to the postseason and Washington will need to keep Kendrick – who's getting up there in years, having just turned 37 – healthy for the duration.
Kendrick returns to D.C. a World Series hero after hitting the go-ahead home run for the Nationals in Game 7 and is coming off a sensational 2019 season, bouncing back from a ruptured Achilles in 2018 with a .344 average, 17 homers, 62 RBI and a .966 OPS.
The Nationals will need his bat in the lineup as frequently as possible if they are to overcome the offensive production lost from third baseman Anthony Rendon departing for the Angels in free agency. It certainly won't hurt to keep Kendrick's legs fresh by pulling him from the field most days.
You've likely already seen Washington's plan at DH, as they've interchanged Kendrick and Eric Thames in the lineup in exhibitions against the Orioles and Phillies this week, rotating the players between first base and DH.
Thames joins the Nats after another strong offensive year in Milwaukee, where he hit .247 with 25 homers and 61 RBI in 2019. Like Kendrick's, his bat needs to be in the lineup, although he's not as versatile in the field as the elder Kendrick. Thames played some right field last year but is really a liability playing anywhere but first. Kendrick can still slot in at either first or second.
And thus the offseason strategy you saw from the organization over the winter, putting an emphasis on versatility among free agents added, signing position players who can play multiple spots in the infield, like Starlin Castro and Asdrubal Cabrera.
It will be on Martinez to fit all the pieces together, and that should start with keeping Kendrick fresh. You can stomach an occasional error at first base, but you can't live without Kendrick's bat in the lineup for an extended period of time, especially after losing Ryan Zimmerman, who opted out of this season due to health concerns related to the pandemic.
COVID-19 has given the Nationals a gift in baseball modifying its rules to allow for a universal DH in both leagues. In years past, players like Jayson Werth – who aged out of being an effective National League player – could have extended their careers with such a blessing in disguise.
They shouldn't squander it – get the best out of Kendrick's bat and give him a chance to carry your offense, which he can only do if healthy.