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Thursday, April 15, 2010
Kemp's defensive miscues are costly

By Tony Jackson
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- As Matt Kemp held court with reporters after Tuesday's home-opening win over Arizona, the Rawlings Gold Glove Award with which he had been presented before the game was sitting right in front of him, on a shelf in his locker. As Kemp fielded a few more questions in the wee hours of Thursday morning, following the Dodgers' 9-7, 11-inning loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks that had begun Wednesday night, the Gold Glove wasn't there anymore.

It hadn't been there in the top of the 11th inning either.

With runners on first and second, one out and veteran reliever Russ Ortiz struggling in his first inning of work, Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds hit a high pop fly to shallow center. Kemp appeared to take about a step and a half backward before abruptly shifting into a full-on charge toward the infield. That half-second of lost time would prove costly, forcing Kemp to lunge for the ball and fail to hold onto it as it fell to the turf, giving Reynolds a gift base hit.

Matt Kemp
Matt Kemp hit another home run Wednesday, but his play on defense this week has left something to be desired.

Instead of two outs and the runners scrambling back to their bases, it was bases loaded with one out. The Diamondbacks went on to score two in the inning and win the game.

"It just should have been caught, man," Kemp said. "I play deep, but no excuses. I should get to that ball. It was high enough that I could have gotten there."

The thing is, it was Kemp's second costly defensive miscue of the week. On Sunday in Florida, he flat-out dropped a fly ball in shallow center off the bat of Marlins catcher Ronny Paulino in the sixth inning. That catch, if Kemp had made it, would have wrapped up a one-two-three inning for Charlie Haeger. Instead, it led to an unearned run that cut a two-run Dodgers' lead to one, and the Marlins scored two more in the seventh to win the game.

To his credit, Kemp made no excuses for either play. After the latest one, Dodgers manager Joe Torre sort of tried to make one for him, although it fell somewhat flat.

"Any time Reynolds swings at a ball and hits it in the air, chances are it's going to be deep," Torre said. "[Kemp] might have slipped coming in, too. Even with the way it happened, I thought he was going to get there in time."

Kemp might be a reigning Gold Glove winner, and he might be a burgeoning superstar player at the plate. But he is still a work in progress, both with the bat and with the glove. He didn't cost the Dodgers this game -- not on a night when he went two for four with a home run, a walk, a stolen base, a sacrifice fly and three RBIs, not on a night when the Dodgers left 13 men on base, seven of them in scoring position, and not on a night when Ortiz, for the second time in the past two appearances, couldn't get the job done.

But as Torre himself said when asked about Ortiz's 11th-inning implosion, "If we catch the ball in center field, who the [heck] knows what would have happened?"

Lost in the shuffle

After a mostly superb performance in his first start of the season, Chad Billingsley kept it up -- for three innings.

He retired nine of the first 10 Diamondbacks hitters, the only exception being the one-out double he gave up to Stephen Drew in the first.

But Drew got to Billingsley for a leadoff home run in the fourth inning, the first of six runs and seven hits and three walks Billingsley would give up from that point until he was lifted with two outs in the sixth. Billingsley retired the first two batters in the fifth, but then issued a two-out walk to Drew, kicking off a critical two-run rally for the Diamondbacks.

By the numbers

Kemp has had two hits in six of the Dodgers' eight games this season, including each of the past four. Kemp also has at least one extra-base hit in six of those eight games. He also has reached base via hit or walk at least once in all eight games.

Scene and heard

Brad Ausmus, who will have back surgery Thursday morning, didn't arrive at the ballpark until after batting practice. When he walked into the clubhouse, he found an arrangement of birthday balloons waiting in front of his locker. Infielder Ronnie Belliard, seated nearby, jumped up, walked over to shake Ausmus' hand and said, "Is this your birthday? Cuantos? Seventeen?" To which Ausmus replied, "Double that. And then add a few more."

For the record, Ausmus was turning 41.

Quote of the day

Torre -- who used every position player, every reliever except Jeff Weaver (who wasn't available because he had pitched in six of the previous seven games) and even starter Charlie Haeger in Wednesday night's game -- when asked who would have pitched if the Dogders had tied the score in the 11th and sent it to the 12th: "It would have been one of those guys out on the field. If it had stayed tied [in the 11th], Russ would have hit for himself and gone back out there. But if we had tied it, I'm sure we would have found a volunteer in there somewhere."

Looking ahead

The Dodgers will get their first look this season at three-time All-Star Dan Haren, who last season went 14-10 with a 3.14 ERA last year and would have had a better record if he had received better offensive and bullpen support. Haren led all National League pitchers last year with a 5.87 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and was second in the league with 229 1/3 innings pitched. The Dodgers will send their early-season ace, Hiroki Kuroda, back to the mound for his second start after he pitched eight outstanding innings against Florida on Friday night, giving up only an unearned run and five hits.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.