A team in flux (cont.)
Posted: Thursday June 21, 2007 5:21PM; Updated: Thursday June 21, 2007 5:50PM
This year Kemp was a surprise last-minute addition to the Opening Day roster and responded by batting .429 in his first five games before colliding with the Dodger Stadium right-field scoreboard on April 9, sending him to the disabled list. You know how you usually hear that players don't lose their jobs because of injuries? Did not apply. Kemp went from the DL to Las Vegas, and did not make it back to Los Angeles until June 8. Since his recall Kemp has gone 9 for 24 (.375) with a home run, but he has struck out in six of his past seven at-bats. For the most part, breaking pitches still own him.
Still, what is immediately apparent in watching Kemp play is that he bring a threat level to the Dodgers, a ferocity, that they sorely lack. He has prodigious power. Even when he doesn't make solid contact, the ball leaves his bat with a snap. When he does hit the ball square, it's an explosion.
Kemp has a throwing arm that, while erratic, you have to respect -- which is saying something considering the other two Dodger starting outfielders, Pierre and Gonzalez, appear to come with their own windmill-armed third-base coaches.
On the bases, Kemp runs like thunder. Perhaps only Pierre prevents him from being the fastest Dodger, and Kemp is certainly the most intimidating. Not since the headiest days of Raul Mondesi have the Dodgers had a multifaceted threat like the Bison.
And therein lies the dilemma. Kemp strikes out at a rate that most Los Angeles fans and media historically have exhibited little patience for, when those strikeouts aren't accompanied by loads of home runs. Witness Betemit, who can't stay in the lineup despite homering at a more frequent rate than any other Dodger (seven in 116 at-bats).
But given where the Dodgers stand, it makes little sense for them not to play Kemp every day, even if he were to hit .210 with more than 100 Ks. Because even with a batting average that low, his power, baserunning and defense would make him one of the team's most valuable players. Kemp is the one guy on the team that can put a scare in opposing pitchers, who can knock them off their game.
And if he does learn to hit the breaking pitch, look out.
Short of turning to Kemp, or pulling of a major trade that would be sure to frighten fans of the Dodgers' young prospects, the Dodgers will be stuck with band-aid moves like firing hitting coach Eddie Murray, ostensibly for being unable to generate more runs out of an offense that finished 15th in the league in home runs and then added Pierre, whose career-high is three.
Despite Schmidt's lost year (and the Dodgers have to hope it's only this year), the pitching staff is second in the NL in ERA. Brad Penny and Derek Lowe have been sensational, as has the bullpen led by Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton.
But perhaps nothing summed up the Dodgers' split personality like the past two nights -- a 10-1 win on Tuesday in Toronto, followed by a 13-1 loss. Eleven Dodgers this year are at least 34 years old; 10 have been 25 or younger. Replacing Schmidt's 1,978 2/3 career innings in the rotation on Thursday is Chad Billingsley with his 125. Abrupt transitions are part of life in Los Angeles, and you just have to get used to the shakes.