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Friday, March 9, 2012
Dodgers 9, Rangers 0

By Tony Jackson



SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Matt Kemp's first home run of the spring was one of those typical, no-doubt shots that rocketed off the Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder's bat and landed about a quarter of the way up the centerfield berm at Surprise Stadium. It came off Cody Eppley, a sidearming Texas Rangers right-hander, in a third inning in which the Dodgers would blow the game open on their way to a 9-0 win.

It also was Kemp's second hit of the afternoon, and he later would add a sacrifice fly, leaving him with a .333 average (3 for 9) through four games. So far, though, his spring has been a mixed bag. He came into this game with five strikeouts in seven plate appearances.

It is asking a lot of Kemp, of course, to expect him to match the numbers he put up last season, when he came within a home run of 40-40, within eight batting points of a Triple Crown and within 56 ballot points of a Most Valuable Player award. But hey, it was Kemp himself who said he wanted to go 50-50 this year.

So, let the expectations fly -- and let the handwringing begin when Kemp isn't exactly lighting up the Cactus League, even if it doesn't really mean a whole lot. Kemp is arguably the biggest name on this club, indisputably the loudest guy in the clubhouse, undeniably a blossoming team leader and inevitably a target for criticism if he doesn't perform to the bar he now has set for himself.

But if he does perform to that level, just maybe he will get that MVP award he so narrowly missed last year -- the one that, in hindsight, perhaps he rightfully should have won anyway.

Andre Ethier went 2-for-2 with a triple on a ball Rangers right fielder Conor Jackson lost in the sun and let carom off the end of his glove and into his face. Jackson left the game and needed stitches above his left eye. Ethier now is hitting .625 (5 for 8) for the spring.

Alex Castellanos homered for the second day in a row and is hitting .571 (4 for 7) this spring. Castellanos, the guy the Dodgers got from the St. Louis Cardinals last summer for Rafael Furcal, is playing the back halves of games, but his homers still have come off one legitimate major leaguer (Koji Uehara) and another sometime big leaguer (Travis Schlichting), so it's hard to dismiss what Castellanos is doing.

The likelihood that he will be on the opening day roster? Well, that you can dismiss.

"I'm really trying to get my club ready,'' Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He isn't a part of that right now.''

The Dodgers (3-1-1) play their first split-squad doubleheader of the spring on Saturday, beginning with an afternoon game against the Seattle Mariners in Peoria -- Nathan Eovaldi will start -- and concluding with a night game at Camelback Ranch against the Chicago White Sox, with the Dodgers the designated visiting team. Chad Billingsley will start that game.