Thursday, August 12, 2010
Matt Kemp back in Dodgers' lineup
By Tony Jackson
PHILADELPHIA -- Struggling Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp returned to the starting lineup Thursday night against the Philadelphia Phillies after being relegated to pinch-hitting duty over the two previous games.
Kemp, who had a breakout season last year, hitting .297 with 26 homers and 101 RBIs, created the impression he was a budding superstar. But he has regressed dramatically in 2010, entering Thursday's game batting .259 with 18 homers, 63 RBIs and 121 strikeouts -- 18 shy of his total for all of last year -- in 484 plate appearances. Torre said he has sensed frustration on the part of Kemp, who tends to internalize such emotions.
"He is frustrated, I can tell you that much," Torre said. "I think young players, when they have some success, have a tendency to think not that it's easy, but maybe in the back of their minds, it seems like it's not that tough. I'm not saying he doesn't put in the time, because he is in the weight room every day. But in this game, the mental part will wear you down, and you have to be able to handle some failure."
Though the Dodgers suffered a devastating 10-9, ninth-inning defeat Thursday, Kemp had a productive return, going 3-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs.
Compared to most major leaguers, Kemp, 25, came to baseball relatively late, not playing the game to any serious degree until his high school years in Oklahoma. In that regard, Torre compared Kemp to Mark Whiten, a power-hitting outfielder he managed with the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1990s.
"Mark Whiten hadn't played a lot of baseball, either," Torre said. "There were some similarities, just the crudeness of it. There is really no substitute for experience. Until you experience certain things, I don't think you can really get a grip on it."
Torre was asked, given Kemp's tendency not to let his emotions show to outsiders, how well he thinks he really knows the mega-talented, Gold Glove-winning outfielder, who for whatever reason has become a lightning rod for criticism this season as his offensive numbers haven't measured up to expectations.
"I don't know," Torre said. "That's a good question. I try to have a sense for what he is dealing with, but I can't tell you if I'm right or not. As I say, he doesn't really give you a lot. He is very quiet, and he doesn't say a whole lot. He kids around a lot with the other players, and he is very comfortable in that environment.
"Even that first year I was here , when he wasn't playing a lot, he would come in and say, 'I want to play, I think I can help,' which was fine with me. Everything he has done has been respectful. But how well I know him, I don't know."
Torre also said he is sensitive to that fact that Kemp is, well, sensitive -- a personality trait that hardly makes him unique among ballplayers.
"I try to be aware of sensitivities," Torre said. "A lot of times, too, Matty tries to be tough and not complain because he wants to fight his own way through it. He is a proud kid. A big part of it is, not that he doesn't want help, but he doesn't want to make it look like he needs any help. But as you get older, that becomes less important."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.