Shawn Kemp has been in a slump lately and he hit bottom Monday night by striking out four times and dropping a fly ball against the Angels.
Kemp is the Dodgers’ biggest star, a National league MVP candidate and a proud man.
“He has a lot of pride,” says manager Don Mattingly.
But it is Mattingly’s job to give the Dodgers the best chance of winning each day, and sometimes a manager is inclined to take drastic action.
So Kemp was removed from a game last week in a double switch, a move commonly made by managers. The guy who made the final out in the previous inning comes out of the game if a pitching change is warranted. The new pitcher goes into that slot so he won’t bat for awhile and a new fielder gets the slot that will bat sooner.
This is an accepted method in baseball, but Kemp was noticeably upset when he was pulled from the game.
It seemed like he was saying “I know this is done but I’m Matt Kemp, so you don’t take me out.”
It didn’t escape Mattingly’s view that Kemp was quite unhappy. Mattingly responded by leaving Kemp out of the lineup the next day.
Mattingly explained to the media that it would be good for Kemp to sit out a game and cool off.
If you’re a Dodger fan you’ve doubtlessly noticed that Kemp isn’t the same player this season – the guy obviously on his way to a great career because he has power, speed and determination.
But he’s coming back from a shoulder injury and doesn’t hit with the same power as before. He’s hit only two home runs so far and had few extra base hits in a recent 14-game batting streak. He’s hitting just .253.
Part of my job is to attend games and size up situations. What I’ve seen in the last few days is that Kemp seems to have calmed down.
“I’ve talked to a lot of guys who’ve been in slumps and they’ve cautioned me to just keep playing and things will change,” he said.
“It could happen on one swing and I’d have my stroke again. I’ll be back.”
In the Dodgers’ win over the Angels Tuesday Kemp batted fifth in the lineup for the first time since 2010. But he didn’t object.
He usually bats third or fourth to maximize his run-producing opportunities. “But I’ve been leaving a lot of runners on,” he said.
Then, Kemp was hit in the elbow by a pitch from former teammate Joe Blanton. Again, Kemp stayed cool, later saying ‘Joe wasn’t trying to hit me. An inside pitch got away from him and he told me he was sorry.”
The elbow became painful as the game went on and Mattingly removed Kemp in the ninth inning.
So Kemp’s troubles seem to be increasing, and there is the matter of the Dodgers being in last place.
Former Dodger star Eric Karros says Kemp’s hitting problems are largely mental. The longer a slump lasts the harder a player tries and often that’s bad, he reasons. An example was Kemp striking out the other night by swinging at a pitch that bounced to the plate.
But it’s a long season. Conclusions in a baseball season shouldn’t be made in the first two months.