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5/24/2014 7:11 P.M. ET

Kendrick stepping up when asked to lead off

ANAHEIM -- For the sixth time this season and the 17th time in his career, Howie Kendrick found his name at the top of the Angels' lineup card on Saturday at Angel Stadium for an assignment against Royals ace James Shields.

Having spent most of his career batting second or down in the order, Kendrick has adapted well to the leadoff responsibilities with a .409 on-base percentage along with a .316 batting average. His .351 OBP in his 16 career starts leading off compares favorably to his .322 career norm to go with a .293 batting average.

Hitting .311 overall with a .385 on-base percentage this season, Kendrick has drawn 19 walks in 206 plate appearances. He took 23 free passes last season in 513 plate appearances.

"Howie's off to a good start in the batter's box," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who has been mixing and matching at the top of the order during the recent absence of Kole Calhoun. "He's seeing the ball well, starting to draw some walks. The important thing with Howie is not really his walk rate; it's his ability to get a good pitch and square it up.

"He's definitely shown some plate discipline. Leading off, he's responded well to it. He's getting on base, hitting the ball hard. He's been really comfortable in the leadoff spot."

Kendrick is a .565 career hitter in 23 at-bats against Shields, with four doubles, a triple and a homer. One thing Kendrick doesn't want to change as a leadoff hitter is his ability to hammer a first pitch if it's in his happy zone. Putting first pitches in play 18 times this season, he's batting .556 with a .778 slugging percentage.

Kendrick has been most productive this season batting fifth. In 15 starts, he has a .397/.478/.500 line. Batting cleanup 16 times, he has produced two homers and 10 RBIs but his average is .258. He has hit sixth most often in his career, batting .309 with a .450 slugging percentage.

With nine steals (in 11 attempts), Kendrick is five shy of his career high for a season.

Hamilton on the mend

ANAHEIM -- Getting a positive report from Adam Nevala, the Angels' head athletic trainer, manager Mike Scioscia was optimistic that Josh Hamilton would get back on course for a return after sitting out Friday and Saturday's games with Triple-A Salt Lake with soreness in his left thumb.

Hamilton had aggravated the surgically repaired thumb when he was jammed in his final at-bat Thursday night.

"Adam talked to him this morning," Scioscia said. "He said he felt good."

In his rehab debut on Thursday night against the Dodgers' Albuquerque affiliate, Hamilton singled and doubled in four at-bats for the Pacific Coast League Bees. He was jammed by Jose Dominguez, a hard-throwing right-hander, in the ninth inning and felt discomfort taking batting practice on Friday.

Sidelined since April 8, Hamilton -- off to a blazing start with a .444 average and .741 slugging mark through eight games -- was hoping to come off the disabled list in time for Monday's series opener against the Mariners in Seattle.

De La Rosa 'not quite ready'

ANAHEIM -- Sean Burnett's return to the Angels' bullpen was timely and effective on Friday night against the Royals, but Dane De La Rosa, the club's 2013 workhorse, is "not quite ready" to join Burnett and Co., according to Angels manager Mike Scioscia.

De La Rosa, out since April 13 with shoulder joint irritation, worked one inning on Friday night for Triple-A Salt Lake against Fresno, yielding a home run to Darren Ford while facing four hitters, striking out one. De La Rosa has a 4.05 ERA for the Bees.

"His velocity is about where it's been," Scioscia said. "He's at a little bit of a plateau. Right now he's not quite ready. I don't know how long it's going to take."

Burnett was thrown into the fire by Scioscia, who summoned the veteran lefty to face Eric Hosmer in the seventh inning of a 6-1 victory. Hosmer grounded out to second to end the inning.

"I think it was important Sean Burnett got in a game and got a key out," Scioscia said. "He came out of it fine. He had good action on his sinker."

Signed for two years and $8 million in December 2012, Burnett made only 13 appearances last year before undergoing elbow surgery in August. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2004.

After a setback in Spring Training, Burnett made six rehab appearances for Double-A Arkansas, throwing 5 1/3 innings, before returning to the Angels' roster.

Worth noting

• Starting pitching clearly is at the forefront of the Angels' recent surge. The rotation's 3.41 ERA ranks third in the American League. At this point last season, the starters' ERA of 4.79 was 11th in the AL. Angels starters are averaging 6.34 innings per outing.

• J.B. Shuck isn't letting his demotion to Triple-A Salt Lake affect his production. The outfielder is batting .386 after picking up a pair of hits on Friday night.

• Aggressive baserunning takes a variety of forms. The Angels came into Saturday's game leading the Majors with 15 triples, one more than the D-backs. Mike Trout leads with four, and Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick and Ian Stewart have three each. The Angels are fifth in the AL in steals with 32, with the third-best success rate of 82.1 percent.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.