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Kendall makes most of batting ninth

Kendall makes most of batting ninth

CHICAGO -- The Brewers saw the good side and the bad of batting the pitcher eighth and catcher Jason Kendall ninth during Wednesday's win over the Cubs.

Mostly the good, which is why manager Ned Yost does not intend to change a thing.

"I don't need it, I really don't," Yost said. "I've been sold on it for a while, that it's the best thing for us. It's working out, and there are going to be times when it doesn't, but for the most part, over the long haul, it's going to pay big dividends for us."

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It did not work particularly well in the early stages of the Brewers' 8-2 win. When shortstop J.J. Hardy made the final out of the second inning, it meant starting pitcher Jeff Suppan, not Kendall, led off the third. Suppan was called out on strikes.

In Suppan's next two plate appearances, he batted with a runner in scoring position, instances in which the Brewers would rather have had Kendall up. Suppan grounded out with two outs and a runner at second base in the fourth inning, then struck out looking for the second out of the sixth, with Corey Hart at third base. In the latter instance, a fly ball would have scored a run in what was, at the time, a 3-1 game.

But in the big picture, it may have been worth it. Kendall was 3-for-4 with a walk, reaching on an error the only time he didn't reach base safely. He doubled twice, drove in two runs and stole a base.

All of those contributions showed up in the box score, as did the would-be base stealer that Kendall threw out in the fourth inning to quash a Cubs rally. Other contributions did not show up on paper, including an at-bat in the eighth, when Kendall expertly hit behind a runner at second base and then legged out an infield single, or the two occasions on which he advanced a base on a wild pitch.

Even when Suppan made the last out of the fourth, wasting a scoring opportunity, it meant Kendall led off the fifth. He doubled and later scored.

"I really enjoyed watching him play today," said outfielder Gabe Kapler, another blue-collar veteran inked over the winter by Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. "In fact, I enjoyed watching him play all spring. He battles his butt off, and he's always in the game, always understands the position the team is in. I think guys follow him and respect him, not because of what he says, but because of his actions."

The Brewers do not expect Kendall to go 3-for-4 every game. They signed him to a one-year contract, with a vesting option for 2009, to handle the pitching staff. That was not the forte, according to various Brewers coaches and players, of Kendall's predecessor, Johnny Estrada.

The Brewers traded Estrada to the Mets a few days before formally coming to terms with Kendall, who, according to Yost, immediately came to terms with his role.

"He's come in and worked real hard to learn our pitching staff," Yost said. "The thing I like about him so much is that his focus is on that pitcher. Whatever he gives us offensively is gravy, and he understands that."

One of Kendall's biggest contributions Wednesday came from behind the plate in the fourth inning. Milwaukee's lead was cut to 3-1, when Derrek Lee led off the frame with a home run, and starter Jeff Suppan then walked Aramis Ramirez and fell into a 3-1 hole against Kosuke Fukudome, who walked in the second inning and had yet to make an out in the Major Leagues.

Suppan worked the count full, then struck out Fukudome swinging on a backdoor slider. Ramirez had broken for second base on the play, and Kendall threw him out. All of a sudden, the Cubs' rally was dead.

Kendall credited Suppan for making a good pitch. Suppan, who worked with Kendall in Pittsburgh in 2003, deflected it back.

"That was a tough pitch for 'Kid' to throw it down to second," Suppan said. "That was big. These games are like that, playing here at Wrigley. It seems like momentum is a big thing, and you always want to keep it on your side."

Adam McCalvy 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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