Matt Kemp tries to catch a long fly ball by Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals… (Michael Nelson / EPA )
Matt Kemp knows what it looks like. No one has to tell him he’s struggling at the plate. Remind him he’s batting .104 (5 for 48) in his last 13 games.
But he also knows it’s not a permanent condition.
“I mean, guys, I know how to hit,” Kemp said. “I promise you, I know how to hit. It’s just right now, it’s been pretty tough.”
And Kemp also realizes, even if he is struggling at the plate, he is still capable of affecting a game. Of making jaw-dropping plays like Saturday night.
The Dodgers were trailing the Cardinals 3-2 in the top of the ninth when Yadier Molina hit a scorching drive to center. Kemp, who had missed time late last month after bruising his shoulder crashing hard into the wall at Coors Field, sprinted back again.
He twisted his body but missed the drive, again hitting the wall hard and falling to the ground. The ball ricocheted off the wall and started bounding almost half-way back to second base. Kemp sprang up, chased the ball down and then threw a bullet as Molina tried to stretch the hit into his first triple of the season.
It was a perfect, laser throw to Luis Cruz at third, who applied the tag just in time to get Molina.
“I had to get it out quick,” Kemp said. “Yady is not the fastest guy around, but he has too many triples. He was booking and I just tried to make a strong throw, and I did.”
The Dodgers would come back to pull out the game with a dramatic two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth, getting huge hits from Luis Cruz and Juan Rivera.
Still, Kemp’s defensive play was understandably a hot topic of conversation in the clubhouse afterward. Manager Don Mattingly seemed to fight tears discussing Kemp’s play.
“You talk about great players, you talk about a lot of ways to win the game,” Mattingly said.
“It really chokes me up. That’s total not wanting to lose.”
Of course, the immediate fear was that Kemp had aggravated his shoulder crashing yet again into the wall.
“I hit it a little bit, but it didn’t hurt,” he said. “I’m good. I’m alive.”
Kemp said his shoulder has actually been feeling good of late, and refused to blame it for his struggles at the plate. When you’ve been labeled a superstar, only greatness satisfies.
“I’m fine. I’m going up there and grinding, trying to get things done,” he said. “Right now I’m swinging at bad pitches and not letting the game come to me. I just have to slow down a little bit.
“But you have guys like Cruz picking me up. Baseball’s not easy. I just have to keep grinding and figure out a way to help my team anyway possible. If that’s playing defense or getting a hit whenever I can or making a good throw to get somebody out. As long as I do one or two good things a day and we get the win, that’s all I really care about.”
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