Sunday, July 3, 2011
Matt Kemp voted to start All-Star Game
By Tony Jackson
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who rode a late voting surge to take a spot as a starter, and left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who was chosen on the players' ballot, were named to the National League All-Star team on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier, who was an All-Star last year, is one of five players on the NL "final-vote" ballot. Fans can elect one of those players in balloting that runs through Thursday.
Kemp, who is in the midst of a potential Most Valuable Player-type season, was fourth in balloting among outfielders as recently as last Tuesday, when the final balloting update was released before the teams were announced. At that point, he trailed Matt Holliday of the St. Louis Cardinals by about 180,000 votes. Kemp actually made up a vote deficit of almost 330,000 votes behind Holliday in the final two weeks of balloting.
"I didn't know what (the margin) was," Kemp said. "They just told me I was in fourth place and they needed votes to get me in. The fans came through for me."
Kemp entered Sunday night's game against the Los Angeles Angels leading the NL in home runs with 22. He was second in hitting at .327 and third in RBIs with 64. He had a .410 on-base percentage and a .617 slugging percentage. He said he felt confident he would have made the team as a reserve if he hadn't been voted in as a starter.
"I was pretty sure," he said. "I thought so, and a lot of other people told me, too. I didn't know if I was going to get to start. Getting a chance to start in an All-Star Game makes it even better."
Kemp is coming off a disappointing 2010 season in which he drew widespread criticism, including public criticism from general manager Ned Colletti and then-third base coach Larry Bowa. Although he hit a career-high 28 homers -- a figure he is now on pace to shatter in 2011 -- Kemp wound up hitting a career-low .249 with only 89 RBIs, both major dropoffs from the year before, and his on-base percentage plummeted to a horrid .310.
This year, Kemp came in with a renewed attitude.
"Last year, that is behind me now," Kemp said. "I don't want to talk about that this year. I wanted to prove to everybody I could still play and be good at this game. ... I'm mentally tougher now. I hope I can stay consistent and get better and better every year."
Asked how he developed that mental toughness, Kemp didn't elaborate.
"Just something I had to figure out for myself," he said.
Kemp will be an All-Star for the first time in six major league seasons, as will Kershaw, who is 6-4 with a 3.23 ERA and leads the majors with 138 strikeouts. Kershaw, 23, threw consecutive complete games before being rocked for seven runs in six innings by the Angels on Saturday night, by which time the All-Star teams already had been set.
Kershaw has struck out 32 batters in his past three starts.
Kershaw had said Saturday night that he wouldn't get out of bed in time to see the All-Star selection show, which aired at 9 a.m. on the West Coast, but he said Sunday that he received several text messages when it was announced that he had made the team.
"I think the coolest part is getting voted in by your peers," Kershaw said. "It's just cool to get recognized like that by your peers."
The highly-touted Kershaw already is in his fourth major league season and has taken a dramatic step forward in 2011. His strikeout-to-walk ratio, which until this season was never better than 3:1, is presently better than 4:1, and his WHIP is presently a career-low 1.06, far better than last year's 1.18.
"I think it's all about performing," he said. "Maybe I'm more experienced and more comfortable out there. The more time you're around, the more comfortable you get."
Kemp, who plays center field for the Dodgers, will almost certainly start there in the All-Star Game because the other outfielders voted in as starters are Ryan Braun, who always plays left field for the Milwaukee Brewers, and Lance Berkman, who usually plays right for the Cardinals and hasn't played center since 2007.
Ethier entered Sunday hitting .322 with 22 doubles, seven homers, 41 RBIs and a .391 on-base percentage. His competition on the final-vote ballot consists of Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Ian Kennedy, Washington Nationals first baseman/outfielder Michael Morse and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.