Center fielder Matt Kemp can't hold on to the game-winning triple… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
We briefly interrupt this Matt Kemp lovefest to wonder — just wonder, mind you — if he hasn’t had a momentary relapse.
That would be the Matt Kemp who leads the majors in batting average, home runs, runs, slugging percentage, total bases and on-base percentage, and is tied for first in RBIs and runs.
The Matt Kemp who has been every rotisserie-league player’s dream and April’s most feared hitter.
Also the Matt Kemp who’s made at least two base-running blunders in as many games, and probably should have caught that game-winning triple Tuesday.
Base-running and fielding gaffes were frequent Kemp companions in 2010, though he successfully put that behind him last season when he went on to become the National League MVP runner-up.
He’s off to a ridiculous start again this season, and I’m not suggesting he’s really about to make some scary U-turn, even if his mistakes Monday and Tuesday against the Braves felt reminiscent of 2010.
Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly actually only spoke to Kemp about the first one, when he got a tad eager and tried to score from first on an Andre Ethier single. He was easily thrown out at the plate and Ethier was doubled up at first.
“We talked about the one [Monday] night,” Mattingly said. “He knows that’s just over-aggressive. We want to be aggressive, we want our guys attacking. That’s the way we want to play. But we want to be smart. Matt knew that was just not the right time for it.”
Tuesday Kemp was involved in a pair of base-running plays that went against him, though there wasn’t much he could do about the first one. He was on first in the fourth when Juan Rivera hit a soft liner to shallow center. Second baseman Dan Uggla sprinted out and Kemp went halfway to second. Uggla made a terrific over-the-shoulder catch, and in one motion, spun and fired back to first to just double up Kemp. Although replays indicated he was actually safe.
“That’s a tweener, that’s a tough one,” Mattingly said. “If he doesn’t get far enough [and] the guy drops it, he’s going to get him at second. That for me is no problem.”
In the sixth Kemp was sprinting down the first-base line to avoid the double play, when the relay went past first baseman Freddie Freeman. Kemp continued down the line and onto the grass, where he saw the ball get away, motioned Dee Gordon to go home and then took a step over the line like he was heading for second. Realizing he couldn’t make it, he quickly stepped back into foul territory, but it was too late and he was tagged out.
“Today’s a reaction play, with a little step toward second,” Mattingly said. “You always teach a guy to turn right and look, because it kind of avoids that.
“He was on the way back. He’s telling Dee to go, then he thinks about going, and then it’s too late.”
So he turned the wrong way, reaction or not.
It would have been a very good defensive pay if he had run down Martin Prado’s triple in the ninth. He ran a long ways, but then on the track with the wall fast approaching, he let the drive go off his glove.
Kemp is so fast and athletic, he can spoil you. You expect him to make excellent plays look routine. And even Mattingly thought he would make the game-saving catch.
“Well, kinda. Not 100%,” he said. “I know he’s going a long way. I know the ball’s hit, you can tell when it gets small quick, he hit it pretty good.
“Anytime you get close to that wall, it’s bang-bang. One little false step and you know the wall is there, you know the wall is coming, the ball’s coming.”
Individually, nothing serious. Collectively, even, not so serious. Two little games. There are just these bad memories that every so often will still give you pause. Normally just before he crushes another homer.
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