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T.J. SIMERS

Dodgers need Kemp to have a contact year

July 20, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

PHOENIX -- Leading off for the Dodgers, and striking out much of the time, Matt Kemp.

Kemp began Saturday night's game with 344 at bats, striking out 104 times -- third-most in the National League this season.

If Kemp, who has beat-it-out speed, makes contact in half of those instances, "I'd be amazing," he said.

If Kemp cuts down his strikeouts, he's probably one of the best offensive players in the game, already hitting .285 in his second full year in the big leagues after posting a .342 average last year.

So much talent, and he begins the game against the Diamondbacks striking out on three pitches.

End of the game, tying run on third and go-ahead run on first, two out and Kemp gets a big moment early in his career with the chance to put the Dodgers alone in first place.

He doesn't strike out. Progress. But he does fly out to right on the first pitch. Game over, Dodgers lose.

"I have no problem with that," Manager Joe Torre said. "You have to like Matt Kemp; he's not shy about being put in that position."

That's what I say, you have to like Matt Kemp, but not everyone around here agrees.

"I'm mad; wouldn't you be -- if you lost?" Kemp said, and there are some people around here who will be surprised to hear it made a difference to Kemp whether the Dodgers won or lost.

"He made a good pitch," he said. "It was over the middle of the plate and it ran in on my hands. I'll be back tomorrow for another pitcher, another game, but I'm still mad."

And so goes the development of Matt Kemp. Future superstar, who is still learning, or the ultimate heartbreaker, who never lives up to expectations?

I asked Torre, based on his lifelong baseball knowledge, to hazard a guess on which way Kemp will go, and surprisingly he began talking about former Dodger and Angel, Devon White.

"Whitey Herzog once told me, he's the kind of player that gets a manager fired," Torre said, and so I said, I can see the headline now: "Torre predicts Kemp to get him fired."

Instead of ripping pen and notebook out of my hand and asking for an interview do-over, Torre let his story linger as is -- the great promise of Kemp in reality meaning a whole lot to a whole lot of people around here.

"You can't teach what he does; when he hits the ball, it stays in the air a long time," Torre said, but obviously it would help if he hit the ball more often.

The trading deadline looms, and those who think Kemp doesn't work as hard as he should and who believe he's a bad influence on the other young players contend the Dodgers and the locker room would be much improved if they could use him in making a significant deal.

How do you like the chances of Ned Colletti swinging a significant deal to help the Dodgers?

There are some folks around here, Page 2 included, who still think Kemp is going to be a superstar, the best of the best young players on the roster, and it's only a matter of more time and experience.

"I don't want to go anywhere," said Kemp, who turns 24 in September. "Everything everyone is saying, I've said to myself a million times. I'm too aggressive, maybe it's a lack of concentration at times, maybe I need a better plan at the plate, maybe I'm too power-happy. I've gone over it all."

The Dodgers have thrown five hitting instructors at Kemp the last two years: Eddie Murray, Bill Mueller, Mike Easler and now Jeff Pentland and Don Mattingly. Funny thing, the Dodgers aren't big into consistency, and yet that's what they want out of their players.

"I listen to people," Kemp said, still very much the headstrong youngster, "But I'm the one who has to do it."

In the first game of this series, he came to the plate six times and didn't strike out -- his home run contributing to a Dodgers victory.

Kemp began Saturday's game with a strikeout, then singled, was robbed of an extra-base hit by left fielder Conor Jackson and singled again before ending the game. The ups and downs with someone packing so much potential, and yet there remains no guarantee there will ever be a consistent payoff.

So what do the Dodgers do?

I say send Colletti on a vacation until after the trading deadline. And maybe send Andruw Jones with him.

--

ANDRE ETHIER, who sometimes gets lost in the background because he's more solid than spectacular, made an interesting observation.

"They don't like consistent players in this game unless you're older," Ethier said. "They want to see the young guys flash a lot of stuff or they get impatient."

--

IT WAS " '70s Night" in Chase Field, the Diamondbacks playing music all night from that era -- 13 of the 25 players on the Dodgers' roster not even born until the calendar turned to the '80s.

At first I thought '70s Night was a tribute to Torre, who just celebrated a birthday Friday, but then I learned it was only birthday No. 68.

--

COLLETTI, THE Schmoozer when everything is going well, and you remember that week or so, has been trying to take a low profile with criticism mounting.

He emerged from hiding before Saturday night's game, but when the Dodgers' gun-shy GM was approached, he said he had a telephone call to make and took off down the right-field line. Here's hoping he's not working on another trade.

--

JEFF KENT, something like one for 22 beginning the game, drilled three shots toward third base -- each caught by Arizona's Mark Reynolds to rob him of a hit. In the ninth inning, Kent hit the ball out of the park for a home run.

"He couldn't play there," Kent told Torre when he returned to the dugout.

--

THE DODGERS will start Eric Stults and Jason Johnson in Colorado for the first two games of their next series, and I would think the over/under on the number of combined runs the Rockies score in those first two games would be 16.

I'll take the over, even though Stults is pretty good.

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.

To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

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