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NATIONAL LEAGUE : DODGERS 4 SAN FRANCISCO 2

Kemp has meeting with Torre

Neither the benched Dodgers outfielder nor the manager divulge the topic of conversation.

June 30, 2010|Dylan Hernandez

SAN FRANCISCO — First, a name was absent from the lineup card. Then, there was a clumsy slide into second base.

Suddenly, the Dodgers outfield appeared to be in as much turmoil as the team's downtrodden starting rotation and thin bullpen.

Matt Kemp was out of the lineup for the third consecutive day and only starting to emerge from Manager Joe Torre's doghouse. Manny Ramirez was listed as day to day and potentially looking at another two weeks on the disabled list because of a strained right hamstring.

The Dodgers' 4-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday turned into something of secondary importance.

Kemp's return to the field was expedited by Ramirez's injury, which happened when Ramirez overran second base in the first inning on a single by James Loney and slid awkwardly on his way back to the bag. When Ramirez limped off the field, Kemp replaced him as a pinch-runner.

By that time, Torre had already said he was committed to starting Kemp in the series finale in San Francisco on Wednesday. But asked whether he would have decided to do so had Kemp not asked to meet with him Tuesday, Torre replied, "I don't know that."

Torre would not divulge what he and Kemp spoke about, saying nothing more than, "I thought the talk went well."

Torre and Kemp were evasive when asked what led to Kemp's benching.

"It was just a matter of deciding to play somebody else," Torre said.

Pressed on the issue, Torre replied, "Why don't you go back on the other guy?"

By "the other guy," Torre was referring to another subject he has refused to discuss: Vladimir Shpunt, the 71-year-old Russian healer that owner Frank McCourt used to pay to send the Dodgers positive energy from his Boston-area home.

While Kemp went into the game Tuesday hitting .196 in June, team sources said that wasn't the reason behind his benching. Instead, it was that Torre had grown tired of Kemp ignoring fundamental aspects of the game, from how he runs the bases to his failure to back up second base on steal attempts by opposing teams.

And, according to a report on mlb.com, Kemp blew up at a member of the coaching staff who was talking to him about a game situation Saturday. Kemp denied that such an incident took place.

What has become clear is that Torre is taking a different approach with Kemp than the one taken by General Manager Ned Colletti in April. Whereas Torre has kept his problems with Kemp behind closed doors, Colletti aired Kemp out in public, wondering aloud in a radio interview whether the outfielder was regressing as a result of a new two-year, $10.95-million contract. Kemp's performance immediately nosedived.

Kemp, who said he didn't have any problems with Torre's decision to bench him, acknowledged that he has been frustrated with his performance.

"I wish I could hit every day and do good, but sometimes people go through times when they're not going to hit," Kemp said. "Right now is my time. I know I'm a good baseball player. I always get out of situations like this. It's just a matter of time before I get my swag back."

Even as Kemp has slumped, his demeanor hasn't changed. He continues to roam the clubhouse looking as if he doesn't have a care in the world and is often heard joking with teammates.

But Kemp said his body language shouldn't be interpreted as a sign of indifference.

"I hide my emotions, you know?" he said. "If something's bothering me, I'm not going to let any of you guys or anybody see that.... I do care."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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