Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Dodgers want more of this Matt Kemp
By Tony Jackson ESPNLosAngeles.com
DENVER -- Incoming Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after Wednesday's game, a 7-6 victory over the Colorado Rockies before 33,296 at Coors Field, that he plans to talk to enigmatic center fielder Matt Kemp sometime before the season ends Sunday.
Mattingly didn't get too specific about what he plans to say in that conversation, but the gist of it seems to be that he would like to see more of what the Dodgers saw from Kemp in this game.
Specifically, the tiebreaking, game-winning grand slam Kemp hit off Jhoulys Chacin in the top of the third inning, a towering, opposite-field shot that provided a glimpse of Kemp's enormous talent when he takes a solid fundamental approach and hits the ball where it is pitched. And maybe less of what Kemp did on two other occasions during the game, which was to strike out, and less of what he did in the bottom of the second inning, when he misjudged and misplayed a playable fly ball by Troy Tulowitzki into a leadoff triple that led to the Rockies' first run.
The Dodgers hope to see more of the Matt Kemp who hit a grand slam Wednesday against the Rockies.
"I really want to talk to him first," Mattingly said, when asked what he would like to see Kemp do differently next season. "I think he knows he has struggled this year. He has shown us a little of what he can do offensively, but it doesn't feel like we saw enough of it. I just want to talk to him about the whole game."
Does that mean just baseball? Or will that talk also include some of Kemp's other issues, those elephants in the room that have become increasingly hard to ignore whenever the subject of Kemp is raised?
Although Kemp's offensive numbers fell off from last season, it isn't as though he has had a bad season. He is hitting a paltry .248, but he does have 25 homers, the most on the club, and 83 RBIs. And while he strikes out way too often -- 168 times in 656 plate appearances -- he also is second on the team with 52 walks, and he has played in 200 consecutive games dating to last season, the longest current streak in the majors.
And yet, no conversation about him is complete without including all that has been written, said and speculated on this season concerning his approach, his attitude and his maturity.
There was that three-game disciplinary benching in June, right after Kemp reportedly got into a dugout confrontation with bench coach Bob Schaefer. There were the comments from the team's general manager as far back as April, when Ned Colletti said Kemp's baserunning and defense were below average and openly questioned whether Kemp's new two-year, $10.95 million contract might have made him too comfortable after he made just $467,000 last year.
There have been mistakes, everything from baserunning blunders to misjudged fly balls to failures to back up plays and a basestealing success rate (55.9) that is far too low for a player with Kemp's speed. And there was perhaps his most infamous on-field moment of the season, when he cost the Dodgers a critical run in a critical game against the San Diego Padres by jogging home and failing to touch the plate before the third out of the inning was made behind him at third base.
"All that stuff, I have seen it," Mattingly said. "He has read it, and I have seen it. Obviously, I want to talk to him about everything in general. It has been a rough year. The second half has been tough for all of us with the way we have swung the bats. So I just want to kind of talk to him in general ... just to give him some things to think about over the winter and go from there."
Throughout the season, outgoing manager Joe Torre never seemed to be able to reach Kemp, a fact that clearly frustrated Torre as well as other members of the coaching staff. But Mattingly, who spent countless hours of one-on-one time with Kemp in the batting cage, believed the two developed a rapport that will lead to a productive player-manager relationship going forward, one he figures can only help Kemp.
"You hope," Mattingly said. "I feel like he knows me, and knows that no matter how things are going for him, he's going to get the same guy on a daily basis. I think he knows that I only want what is best for him and best for this ballclub."
Getting a rare chance to start -- and his final chance to start this season -- rookie Carlos Monasterios held his own for four innings, holding the Rockies to three runs and four hits. That wasn't great, but it was good enough to put himself in a position to win after the Dodgers erupted for five runs in the top of the third, including Kemp's grand slam.
Alas, it wasn't enough innings to get Monasterios a win, and when he ran into trouble in the fifth, Torre lifted him with two outs, leaving Monasterios just one-third of an inning short of qualifying.
"I thought Monasterios pitched well until he tried like [heck] to get through the fifth," Torre said. "I have seen pitchers in the past put the blinders on and say they don't even know what inning it is. But all he was doing was trying to get out of that inning, and you could see the motor running."
The win was awarded by scorer's discretion to Ramon Troncoso (2-3), who shut out the Rockies on two hits over 1 1/3 innings, and Ronald Belisario pitched a shaky ninth to record his second save after Torre used Hong-Chih Kuo to pitch the eighth.
Monasterios finished the season with a 4.38 ERA overall -- 2.06 in his 19 relief appearances, 5.91 in his 13 starts.
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2 -- consecutive seasons in which Kemp has hit at least 25 home runs and at least 25 doubles. That makes him the ninth Dodgers player with multiple 25-homer/25-double seasons since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958. The others are Ron Cey, Dusty Baker and Reggie Smith, who each had two such seasons; Steve Garvey, Pedro Guerrero, Raul Mondesi and Shawn Green, who each had three; and Eric Karros, who had five.
The Dodgers open their final series of the season Friday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium. A series sweep would salvage a .500 season for the Dodgers, who have won five of six against the Diamondbacks at home this season and 11 of 15 against them overall. Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley (11-11, 3.61) will make his final start of the season in the opener against Diamondbacks left-hander Zach Kroenke (0-0, 21.60), a rookie who will be making his first career start after two relief appearances.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.