Mattingly senses Kemp needs a breather
Dodgers manager hopes slumping All-Star outfielder benefits from night off
LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kemp was not a happy camper Wednesday because the Dodgers' starting lineup was posted without him in it for the closer of a three-game series against the Padres at Dodger Stadium.
"He was mad at me today," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said about his slumping center fielder.
Join the crowd. Kemp wasn't too happy with the media, either. The group interview lasted less than two minutes before he shooed reporters away from his locker.
"I don't ever want to sit out," Kemp said when asked about the situation. "I want to play baseball games. But, you know, I didn't make the lineup out tonight, Donnie B. did. He told me I needed a night off. I respect him for that."
The man they call "Donnie Baseball" said that earlier he stopped by that same locker to give Kemp the news that he wasn't starting and then just kept on going. With a three-game series in Baltimore coming up beginning Friday night, Mattingly indicated this is just a one-game thing.
"It wasn't much of a conversation," Mattingly said about his brush with Kemp. "I just went by and told him. I was on the move, so he couldn't hit me or anything."
That's really, the point, isn't it? Kemp isn't hitting much of anything at all right now. He's batting .185 with no homers and four RBIs in the club's first 14 games, half of them losses.
During what appeared to be a listless early batting-practice session on the field, Kemp even swung and missed at a pitch tossed to him by a machine. He fouled the next off and it rattled the batting cage. Mattingly said Kemp's BP really wasn't as lifeless as it seemed.
"I don't know. It wasn't so bad. I don't mind the BP," Mattingly said, explaining that he was having the right-handed swinger work on hitting the ball the opposite way. "He was kind of backing the ball up, hitting a lot of balls the other way."
What Mattingly minds is that Kemp seems to be lost in the batter's box when it really counts. The Dodgers are leaving too many runners on base -- 44 in five games against the Padres during the past 10 days. Kemp, his powerless No. 3 hitter, is at the heart of the problem. After left shoulder surgery during the offseason, Kemp hasn't hit a homer in a regular-season game since this past Sept. 30. He hit one during Spring Training, and that came on March 17.
When Kemp struck out against Padres right-hander Jason Marquis in the sixth inning of what turned out to be a 9-2 loss on Tuesday night, Mattingly figured it was time to get him out of the game. It wasn't so much the two errant throws Kemp made to the plate that had Mattingly concerned. He just figured that in what was then an 8-1 game and with an 0-for-3 and two whiffs behind him, it was the perfect juncture for Kemp to take a seat.
"When things aren't going right, you try to make it happen, and that leads to more trouble," Mattingly said. "I'm just looking at body language more than anything. I've been around him long enough. Just being around the game, you see guys struggle. Sometimes it just helps to just sit back and watch a game where you're not having to be out there. [On Tuesday], I could see the frustration and I needed to get him out of the game."
Kemp's start this year is in stark contrast to the way he roared out of the gate in 2012. In the wake of signing an eight-year contract for $160 million and finishing second behind Milwaukee's Ryan Braun in the 2011 voting for the National League MVP Award, Kemp began last season by scalding the ball.
He hit .417 with 12 homers and 25 RBIs for the month of April and seemed to be on his way to another dynamic season until popping his left hamstring on May 13. The injury was so severe that from then on, he played in only two games before finally coming off the disabled list just after the All-Star break. But Kemp was never the same and further compounded his problems later in the season when he injured that shoulder banging into a center-field fence. He was a .222 hitter with six homers and 15 RBIs in his final 27 games.
Kemp insisted on Wednesday that he's healthy. That's not the issue.
"I'm good, I'm good," he said. "I'm just not doing what I need to be doing right now. Nothing's wrong. I'm fine."
How does he get out of this malaise?
"I just have to hit, hit," Kemp said. "There's nothing else. That's it."
Are you looking at video?
"I look at video every day," he said.
Do you see any differences?
"I can't explain it to you guys," Kemp said. "I just need to do a better job of hitting. That's it. You're not going to get anything more out of me. I just need to do a better job at helping my team out. All right, that's enough. I'm good."
To be sure, Kemp will almost certainly be back in the lineup against the Orioles at Camden Yards this weekend when the Dodgers must utilize a designated hitter on the road in an Interleague series.
By then, Mattingly hopes his All-Star center fielder uses the time off to get his head back on straight.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.