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Kendrick says he's a 'work in progress'

Improvement essential to Kendrick

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The bigger they are, the harder Howard Kendrick's hits fall.

A .306 Major League hitter in 160 games, Kendrick has delivered his best work against the highest level of competition. He's a .500 hitter against the Red Sox in 30 at-bats (.545 at Fenway Park) and a .520 Yankees killer in 50 at-bats (.429 at Yankee Stadium).

Yet, as he embarks on his third season with the Angels, Kendrick takes nothing for granted.

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"I'm always going to be a work in progress," Kendrick said. "When you start to think you have nothing more to learn, that's when you start to slide back. The game's always changing. You have to stay fresh. It's always about making adjustments."

Kendrick has developed a mantra for 2008.

"My motto," he said, "is to get better every day."

He carries it into his profession -- a hit machine playing second base -- and into his life outside the game that he shares with the former Jody Jensen, who became his bride on Jan. 6, 2007.

If the salad days have arrived for Kendrick, that's boneless chicken breast or a slice of turkey on his plate, not red meat.

"I put myself on a diet during the offseason," Kendrick was saying at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the end of the long spring finally in sight. "I don't eat fried foods anymore. I cut off fast foods altogether. And I feel a lot better."

A blood pressure test taken after the 2007 season caught his attention. It was higher than it should have been. With a family history of high blood pressure, Kendrick did what a smart hitter always does. He made adjustments.

"I was up to 217 pounds," he said. "I dropped 10 pounds on the new diet. Last year I played at 210 all year, and I'm lighter than that now.

"I got a stress test in Spring Training and it came back normal. High blood pressure runs in my family -- my grandmother had it -- so I had to be concerned about it. It's something I have to watch, because it's in my genetics. And my wife was really concerned."

Jody is breathing easier now as she prepares those happy, healthy meals for her husband.

"It's a big relief to my wife," Kendrick said. "Coming in healthy and being healthy is making a difference. I feel quicker. I feel good swinging the bat, and I want to carry that into the season."

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Kendrick experienced another kind of relief over the winter. His name was prominently mentioned in connection with the Marlins, but when they chose a Tigers offer over the one presented by the Angels for Miguel Cabrera, Kendrick exhaled.

With a home north of Scottsdale, Kendrick spent the winter getting physically fit and conditioned at Fischer Sports in Tempe. Among the athletes who work out there are pitchers Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood and Jason Schmidt along with a prominent NFL strike thrower, Donovan McNabb.

"It's a good environment to work out in," Kendrick said. "Donovan McNabb would come in later in the day; he lives here. I started there in the beginning of January, but next winter I'll be starting sooner, probably in December."

Limited to 88 games last season by fractured fingers in separate incidents in April and in July, Kendrick still managed to bat .322. In the equivalent of one full Major League season, having played 72 games in 2006, he's a .306 hitter with nine homers and 69 RBIs.

"He's never walked a lot, and he's probably not going to walk a lot," manager Mike Scioscia said. "His plate discipline is getting better. He has the potential to be an outstanding offensive player. We want to see what Howard can do with 600 plate appearances."

Kendrick's primary mission is to improve his pitch recognition and plate discipline. He walked only nine times (twice intentionally) in 338 at-bats in 2007.

"Being in hitters' counts will always play in your favor," Kendrick said. "I want to continue to get better with that, carrying over what I learned last year. Recognizing breaking balls, getting a feel for what pitchers like to do in certain counts ... it's all part of it.

"People always ask me how many home runs I can hit. I'm just trying to hit the ball hard, just let it happen. You can fall into bad habits if you get outside yourself. I'm just trying to stay inside the ball, give myself the best opportunity to react to any pitch."

Starting with his rookie-level debut in 2002, the man from Jacksonville, Fla., is a .359 career Minor League hitter in 375 games. His compact stroke has cranked out bullets everywhere he's been -- including Boston and New York.

"I love playing in places like Boston and New York with all the excitement and energy," Kendrick said. "I get really pumped up by the crowds, the environment."

It shows.

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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