Kemp is human, Rivera strains hammy
April, 24, 2012
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- This just in: Matt Kemp is human.
The All-Star center fielder, arguably the best player in the majors, capped off a two-night string of baserunning blunders by having a ball tick off his glove with two outs in the ninth inning Tuesday night, leaving Atlanta Braves left fielder Martin Prado with a triple that drove in the winning run as the Los Angeles Dodgers fell 4-3 before 44,014 at Dodger Stadium.
To be fair to Kemp, it would have been a spectacular, play-of-the-year caliber catch if he had made it, especially given that it would have been, for the moment anyway, game saving. But the fact Kemp came so close to making it and didn't -- the ball appeared to land in his upturned glove, Willie Mays-style, for a split second as he ran headlong toward the wall in right-center, only to pop out and land on the track -- makes this defeat that much more frustrating for the Dodgers, who lost at home for the first time in eight games this season.
Especially after Kemp made two earlier gaffes on the bases to go with the one he committed Monday night in a game the Dodgers won.
To be fair to Kemp again, he was caught in the middle when he was doubled off first base in the fourth inning. Andre Ethier hit a blooper that it looked like Braves second baseman Dan Uggla might catch in short right-center, but it was tough to tell whether he would, and Kemp didn't have the luxury of just watching to see. He had to decide between sticking close to first, running the risk he could be forced at second if Uggla didn't catch the ball, and moving too far off first, running the risk he would be doubled off if Uggla did.
The latter ultimately was what happened, and it didn't really matter that televised replays showed Kemp sliding back into first a split second ahead of the throw from Uggla because first-base umpire Alan Porter didn't see it that way, so Kemp was out.
It was in the sixth inning, though, that Kemp made a mistake that was harder to forgive. With runners on first and second, he hit what looked like a double-play grounder, but the relay from Uggla skipped past first baseman Freddie Freeman, allowing Dee Gordon to scamper all the way home from second.
But in his jubiliation, Kemp turned to his left after crossing the bag -- technically, a move toward second base -- instead of to his right, and Freeman tagged him. Porter initially ruled Kemp hadn't turned the wrong way, but after an argument with Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and a consultation with the rest of the crew, Porter changed his mind and Kemp, in what amounted to an admission of his mistake, jogged off the field without further argument. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly did argue, but it was pointless at that point.
Yeah, it was a bad night. But Kemp is still Kemp, which means after going 1-for-3 with a walk, he still is hitting .455 with nine homers, 22 RBIs and a ridiculous .513 on-base percentage. This game will humble you, though. It happens to the best of them, and Tuesday night, it just might have happened to the best player in baseball.
Five innings after hitting his first home run in 61 plate appearances this season, a two-run shot in the first that gave the Dodgers an early lead, Juan Rivera strained his left hamstring running out an infield single and left the game. Mattingly said after the game it won't be known how serious the injury is until Rivera returns to the ballpark on Wednesday morning and lets the training staff know how he is feeling.
That means he could miss a game or two. Or he could be headed for the disabled list.
If Rivera is sidelined, there will be some degree of hue and cry for the Dodgers to promote Scott Van Slyke from Triple-A Albuquerque, where he is tearing up Pacific Coast League pitching to the tune of a .364 average and a .437 OBP. It probably won't happen, though, because Van Slyke is pretty much strictly an outfielder. Rivera plays left field and first base, and so does Jerry Sands. That means Sands, who is hitting a ghastly .192 in the hitter-friendly PCL, likely would get the call.
Aaron Harang said the reason he struggled in the fifth and sixth innings, giving up three runs and five hits, after dominating the Braves through the first four may have been that his mechanics were thrown off by swelling in his left foot after he fouled a ball off it during a third-inning at-bat.
"I was trying to make some adjustments to compensate for [that]," the veteran right-hander said. "It was swelling up a little bit in my shoe. We did some cold spray on it, but it was my landing foot. I felt like I could get through it, but as the game progressed, it got a little more achy.''
Harang said the foot isn't a concern for his next start, which is scheduled for Monday night in Colorado.