Rough times in center field for Kemp

May, 22, 2014
May 22
9:10
PM PT
NEW YORK -- The highlights will show the Yasiel Puig catch, and rightfully so.

But the question that Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was pondering after Thursday night's 5-3 loss to the New York Mets concerned his center fielder, not his right fielder.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kemp, Yasiel Puig
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonMatt Kemp, left, couldn't come up with this catch on a long drive by the Mets, but was this a play he could have made before his rash of injuries?
On a night when the Dodgers' defense cost them yet another game and a chance at a three-game sweep, Mattingly openly wondered whether Matt Kemp can be the Gold Glove defender he once was -- and even whether Kemp should continue to be the regular starter in center field.

"We continue to look at it," Mattingly said. "We'll see where we go with it."

Kemp was far from the only culprit Thursday, in a game where the Dodgers' sloppy play overshadowed Puig's spectacular second-inning catch of a Wilmer Flores fly ball. He's far from the only average to below-average defender on a Dodgers team where defense continues to be a major issue.

But Kemp, a two-time Gold Glove winner in center field, isn't supposed to be average or below. Or at least he wasn't, before injuries cost him large parts of the last two seasons and before he had microfracture surgery on his left ankle.

While Kemp says he's not injured, he will admit that his ankle doesn't always feel the same as it once did. He certainly doesn't look the same in center field as he once did, a point Mattingly acknowledged.

"No, it doesn't look the same," Mattingly said. "Just the burst, the kind of outrun-the-ball burst. Talking with Matt, I don't hear anything [physically] that he can't play. We're just not seeing the burst."

Kemp agreed that he hasn't been as good defensively as he should be. He said he didn't want to use the ankle as an excuse, but admitted it could be a factor.

"I just need to play better defense," he said. "I've been bobbling balls, not getting as good a jump as I need to. ... My legs are getting stronger and stronger, but I did come off microfracture surgery. I wish I was as explosive as before.

"I'm not hurt or anything, but you have those good days and bad days. I wish I could steal 100 million bases like I used to, but I don't feel it."

The Dodgers didn't steal any bases Thursday, but Puig did steal a certain double from Flores with a catch that will be replayed both on television and in the minds of all those who saw it.

"An unbelievable catch," said Kemp, who watched from center field as Puig got to a ball he had no business reaching, catching it on a full-out back-hand dive just before his glove hit the outfield grass. "I was shocked. That's probably one of the best catches I've seen in a long time."

It was quite a night for Puig, who also managed to run himself into two double plays. The first came on a play where Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy failed to catch a Hanley Ramirez popup, and Puig didn't realize the umpires had invoked the infield-fly rule. The second came when Puig was overly aggressive and failed to realize that Eric Campbell had a chance to make a diving catch on Ramirez's ninth-inning line drive (which he did).

"Yasiel's aggressive," Mattingly said. "You see that on the great play, but then you see it on the other plays, too."

The Dodgers will live with that, and work with that. Puig continues to hit. He has reached base in 23 straight games, continuing the streak with an eighth-inning double he celebrated with a bat flip (thinking it would be a home run).

Puig is the right fielder, for better (much of the time) and for worse (some of it).

Kemp is the center fielder, for now. But for how much longer?

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
21 1.77 239 198
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .296
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239