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Durable Kendall's option vests for '09

Durable Kendall's option vests for '09

SAN DIEGO -- Brewers catcher Jason Kendall started another game on Thursday and ensured he'll get to start next season, too.

By making his 110th start of the season, Kendall vested a 2009 option that pays a $4.25 million base salary. He also earned a $100,000 bonus by playing in his 110th game on top of the $150,000 he received when he made his 100th start earlier this month.

Kendall can boost his 2009 base salary to $4.35 million if he starts 120 games and $4.6 million if he starts 130. At his current pace, he will start 146 games, which would match the career high he set in 2005 with Oakland.

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Kendall also has $750,000 more in 2008 bonuses within reach. He'll earn an additional $150,000 each for 120 and 130 games played this season, plus $200,000 for 115 starts and $250,000 for 130 starts. The bonuses for games played will be added to his '09 salary, while bonuses for starts are paid out this year.

"I'd love to stay here the rest of my career, however long they'll keep me," the 34-year-old said. "I enjoy the city, I enjoy the fans, I enjoy the team. I couldn't be happier.

"And I still enjoy playing. I still feel as good as I did when I was 21 years old, body-wise. Everybody says, 'You play so much!' But that's my job. It's our job to play."

Kendall, the only catcher in the Majors to start at least 130 games in each of the past six seasons, was a free agent last winter and had offers from as many as seven teams, most of which wanted him to share starts behind the plate or tutor a young backstop. Colorado and Florida were particularly aggressive, but Kendall chose Milwaukee, a team that used a combination of Johnny Estrada and Damian Miller the previous season.

At the time, Kendall was coming off one of his worst seasons. He batted a career-low .242 for the A's and Cubs with a .301 on-base percentage while ranking next-to-last in the Majors in throwing out would-be basestealers.

He entered Thursday's series finale against the Padres hitting .243 as Milwaukee's No. 8 hitter and said he "is not where I want to be at the plate." But he had made dramatic improvements defensively, throwing out 26 of 42 would-be basestealers, a fabulous 38.2 percent success rate. Last year, he was 13-for-124 (10.5 percent).

"He's made it look like a good offseason pickup," general manager Doug Melvin said. "A lot of people said, 'Why would you get a catcher who can't throw anybody out?' We wanted to get someone we knew had a reputation for working with pitchers."

In that area, Kendall, by all accounts, has been a success. Melvin was in the lobby of the team hotel at 7:30 a.m. PT on Thursday, a little more than nine hours after the Brewers recorded the final out of Wednesday's win. Kendall was already checking out and heading to the ballpark for the 12:30 p.m. game.

"He brings a stabilizing presence behind the plate," said right-hander Dave Bush, who has been one of a parade of Brewers starters who have praised Kendall this season. "He cares about how we do out there. I know that when I go out there, I'm as prepared as I can be, and he is, too. That doesn't always translate to a good game, but it gives you the best chance to win."

Kendall is on the verge of becoming Milwaukee's most durable catcher ever. Darrell Porter holds the franchise record for starts behind the plate, with 121 in 1975, and current bench coach Ted Simmons came close in 1982 when he made 120 starts.

In only six other seasons has a Brewers catcher made more than 110 starts: Estrada made 111 starts last season, Mike Matheny started 112 games in 1997, B.J. Surhoff made 119 starts in 1990 and 118 in 1991, Charlie Moore started 116 games in 1977 and Porter made 114 starts at catcher in 1974 before setting the club record the following season.

"Everybody gets tired," Kendall said. "Mentally, you just get it done."

Physically, he is blessed with a bounce-back ability that few players possess. That is especially true considering Kendall suffered a devastating ankle injury on July 4, 1999, when he was playing for the Pirates against the Brewers at Three Rivers Stadium. He tried to drag bunt for a single and fractured and dislocated his ankle at first base. A piece of bone protruded through his skin.

"They said I would never come back," Kendall said.

He did come back, and almost a decade later he was still playing. The irony was not lost on Kendall last month, when the Brewers and Pirates met again on July 4. Just for fun, Kendall attempted a drag bunt but it rolled foul.

"I came full circle," Kendall said. "Some of the Pirates' announcers were like, 'What are you doing?'

"Playing baseball is fun. I love Milwaukee and I want to play here a lot longer."

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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