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When wanting Matt Kemp to step it up is not the same as wishing him the black plague

August 19, 2010 |  9:43 am
Is it even possible for anyone to say or write anything remotely critical of Matt Kemp without his hoard of oversensitive defenders screaming: "They’re making him a scapegoat! It’s unfair! He’s being singled out! They only yell at Matty!"

Wah-wah-wah.

What’s up with this?

Now I know this isn’t the majority, but still, it’s amazing how anything resembling a barb -- or even perceived to be -- gets the Kemp stat wonks' undies in a knot.

OK, so Kemp was benched again Wednesday. And try to get this, he deserved to be. He’s an absolute mess at the plate and has been almost all month.

He is currently in a 1-for-18 skid with seven strikeouts. In his last 15 games, he’s batting .156 with 15 strikeouts in 45 at-bats.

Are other Dodgers are struggling too? Sure, but not this badly, and certainly not looking this badly. Watching Kemp flail around at the plate, a batter without a clue, is an amazing thing.

It’s like he has some hitter’s learning disability. He keeps taking good pitches, swinging at low and outside sliders like he simply can’t help himself.

So Joe Torre sat him Wednesday against the Rockies. It’s not an indictment against Kemp, just a reality check on the player at this moment.

This does not make him a scapegoat for the Dodgers' ongoing woes. Please recognize that he has played more games and had more at-bats than any other Dodger.

Asked why Kemp was sitting Wednesday against Rockies right-hander Jason Hammel, Torre said:

"Because [Jay] Gibbons is. I wanted to give him a game. He hadn’t played in a bit. He’s got a left-handed bat that can hopefully benefit us."

Asked it he could foresee this becoming a platoon, Torre said:

"I think I’d rather do it more by feel, if there’s something in the matchups that tell me something. I think Matt is still going to play most of the time."

That sounded like a wavering commitment, but Torre also recognizes what everyone else does -- Kemp is the most physically gifted player on the team.

Which also makes him the most frustrating. Not because of his diminished results this season, but the erratic effort that’s gone into their achievement.

The Times’ T.J. Simers loves Kemp’s talent, abhors his lack of consistent hustle but remains convinced that one day he will be a truly great player. Me, I’m starting to wonder.

Paul Oberjuergue, who covered Los Angeles sports for over 30 years, has grown weary of Kemp’s bonehead plays on the field and on the bases, and at his blog questions whether his head is truly into the game.

Kemp did go into Wednesday’s game in the eighth inning, got two at-bats and struck out twice on a total of nine pitches.

When word hit the Rockies clubhouse Wednesday that Kemp was nominated as the Dodgers finalist for the Heart and Hustle award, there was open amazement.

So it wasn’t so surprising in the eighth inning when Dexter Fowler hit a routine single to center, and noticing that Kemp was circling the ball at something less than his finest hustle, tried to stretch the hit into a double.

Nor was it surprising when Kemp then recovered and threw him out. He has that kind of talent. Too often, he gets by on that talent.

And can we leave behind the "poor little Matt gets picked-on" bit?

Let’s see, General Manager Ned Colletti did call him in April when he was playing defense and running the bases like he had a bag over his head. And once coach Larry Bowa both praised and lightly criticized him, which Kemp agreed with.

And that’s been it for those mean ol’ coaches who are paid to get the most out of their players. Considering everything, he’s had it easy.

The Dodgers have no interest in giving up on Kemp, trading him or messing with his head.

They just want him to go to the plate with a plan. To play fundamental defense. To hustle on the bases and on the field.

These are reasonable, understandable expectations. And noticing it when it doesn’t happen is not doing some hatchet job on Kemp.

-- Steve Dilbeck
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