Thursday, June 27, 2013
Matt Kemp finds Puig's energy infectious
By Mark Saxon
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig isn't going to make his teammates any younger. It only looks that way.
Matt Kemp is far from old, his 30th birthday still two Septembers away. It only looked that way at times in the first two months.
Matt Kemp, embracing Yasiel Puig in the dugout, stole two bases in the eighth inning to help set up a key insurance run for the Dodgers.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' best player of the past few years is clearly gaining some energy from the Dodgers' best player of the past few weeks. Puig continues to do his full-speed-ahead thing, driving in the key runs in the Dodgers' 6-4 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday, and Kemp is looking rather spry himself.
Kemp, who had the dramatic game-ending catch to seal Tuesday's win against the San Francisco Giants, stole a pair of bases to tack on a key run in the eighth. Kemp, who missed a month because of a strained right hamstring, is 9-for-9 in stolen-base attempts this season and says he feels as if he's running on "Puig legs" these days.
Puig went so hard into the right-field wall in the seventh inning, somebody asked manager Don Mattingly if he was concerned.
"No, they checked the wall," Mattingly said. "It's fine."
Mattingly hopes the same for Puig, of course. Everything the Dodgers are doing right now -- the six-game winning streak, the burgeoning power -- seems to derive from the energy Puig is generating.
"I think the way Yasiel plays is really contagious for guys," Mattingly said.
Kemp, of course, has his own history with walls. He hit one in Colorado last August and hasn't been the same since. He had shoulder surgery, then dealt with the tight hamstring, a borderline chronic condition for him the past two years. Just getting back on the field Tuesday after missing 75 games the past two seasons might have been all the motivation Kemp needed.
He has played with a child-like joy since he returned -- slapping the outfield wall, swiping at the dirt near third base -- that was noticeably absent in the first two months as his slump dragged on. He said he's determined to help the Dodgers get back to the playoffs for the first time in four years and he's willing to do it in quieter ways -- stealing a base, catching a ball -- until his bat starts making its customary noise.
"I missed baseball, man," Kemp said. "I ain't played baseball in a while and, when it gets taken from you for injuries, you miss it and, when you come back, it's pretty emotional."
There surely will be a time or two this year when Puig's frenetic energy works against the Dodgers. There will be times Kemp no longer plays with the excitement that has catapulted him back from the disabled list.
But given the way this season has gone, the Dodgers aren't slowing down to let any of that sink in.