Matt Kemp just doesn't look right

April, 11, 2013
4/11/13
11:34
AM PT
The San Diego Padres moved in the fences at their spacious ballpark, converting it from cavernous to just big.

Asked about the new, cozier configuration, Matt Kemp told the Los Angeles Times, "When I'm on, can't no ballpark hold me."

This is true. Kemp has prodigious power and is strong enough to hit the ball out of almost any part of almost any stadium. In the parlance of scouts, he has foul pole-to-foul pole power, a rare gift.

But where has it been? Kemp has maintained all through the spring that his left shoulder feels good, that it's not hampering his swing. But the evidence says otherwise.

In the third inning of Wednesday night's game, Kemp got an 89 mph belt-high fastball over the middle of the plate from soft-tossing lefty Eric Stults. He swung through it to strike out. As he walked back to the dugout, the TV cameras zeroed in on Kemp, who had a surprised look on his face.

This is a player who nearly hit for the Triple Crown two seasons ago, who fell one home run shy of 40, has had 82 at-bats in 2013, including spring training, and has hit one home run. Equally troubling, Kemp has managed just five doubles. Since early March, he is hitting .220. He squared up a couple of balls on the last homestand and they didn't reach the warning track in center field.

Wednesday was a nice day for Kemp. He had a couple of solid singles and it appeared to be a step forward as he tries to shake off a sluggish start. Manager Don Mattingly has suggested he simply has been trying too hard.

That might be the case, but people should also remember that Kemp is coming off a substantial surgery. In October, Dr. Neal ElAttrache had to repair the torn labrum cartilage in Kemp's left shoulder. He also removed debris from Kemp's rotator cuff. When Kemp woke up from the surgery, doctors told him the damage he'd sustained from an Aug. 28 collision with the Coors Field wall was worse than they suspected.

The first step for Kemp is to begin to trust his shoulder again, that when he swings as hard as he can, it won't cause him further pain. We don't know what he's feeling when he goes to the plate, but we have a pretty good idea he's not entirely back to his old self yet.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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