Commentary

Matt Kemp's baserunning needs work

This one doesn't hurt in what was a 5-1 loss to Philly, but it's the latest example

Updated: September 1, 2010, 10:02 PM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- It definitely didn't cost the Los Angeles Dodgers a game. It probably didn't even cost them a run.

But in the eighth inning of Wednesday's game, a 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies before 37,080 at Dodger Stadium, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp found himself in the spotlight for the wrong reason -- specifically, his baserunning -- yet again.

With Kemp on first, Jamey Carroll on second and one out in the late stages of what had been an utterly frustrating afternoon for the Dodgers, first baseman James Loney finally got them on the board, pulling a line drive off the out-of-town scoreboard in right field, where the Phillies' Jayson Werth played the carom perfectly.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kemp
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuMatt Kemp, shown earlier this season, has had a rough go as a baserunner this season.

But as Carroll crossed the plate with the Dodgers' first (and as it would turn out only) run of the game, Kemp was suddenly running backward, scrambling to get back to second base and forcing Loney to hold at first. Kemp had missed the bag as he rounded it, making it necessary for him to go back and touch it in the time he otherwise might have been racing toward third.

With Loney unable to advance past first, Casey Blake followed with a tailor-made double-play grounder to end the inning -- a grounder that would have resulted in only one out and might have resulted in Kemp's scoring if the Dodgers had runners on second and third instead of on first and second.

In fairness to Kemp, Loney later said he probably wouldn't have tried for second even if Kemp had gone to third, meaning the double play still would have been in order.

"I think it would have been close," Loney said. "Right when I got to first, it looked like [Werth] already had the ball. I don't think I would have risked it right there."

The ball bounced directly off the scoreboard and almost right into the glove of Werth, who owns one of the best outfield arms in the league. But while Kemp's mistake ultimately didn't prove costly, it did provide yet another example of a part of the mega-talented Kemp's game that he still hasn't quite mastered.

Baserunning, to put it mildly, isn't Kemp's strongest suit.

"Again, I'm still going to come to his defense for one reason, and that is he is still learning this game at this level," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "When you're learning the game, it doesn't slow down to wait for you. He has some extraordinary speed and ability, and a lot of times, he gets overly aggressive. I'm not sure he saw the ball on that one."

Kemp had committed an almost-identical gaffe on a ball hit by Loney in the sixth inning of Tuesday night's loss to the Phillies, but that one wasn't nearly as glaring because it happened on a home run. With Kemp on first, Loney launched one into the right-field pavilion. But by the time Loney was rounding first and slowing to a home-run trot, Kemp, apparently thinking he had missed second, was running back to the bag to make sure he touched it even though he had appeared to have already done so.

Neither of those momentary hiccups was a major factor in either of the Dodgers' losses in those two games, nor were they the reason the Dodgers (68-66) slipped 7½ games behind the Phillies in the wild-card standings. But they were two more examples of the fact Kemp, despite his 22 homers and 74 RBIs, is still a work in progress.

"[His baserunning] is something that needs to improve," Torre said. "I'm sure it will improve, because he has been working hard on it."

Trends

Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw turned in another outstanding performance. But in an all-too-familiar storyline, not just for Kershaw but for all the Dodgers' starting pitchers, it went for naught because of a lack of run support.

Kershaw (11-9) went six innings and gave up two runs, both of them on solo homers by Jimmy Rollins leading off the game and Shane Victorino leading off the second inning. He also struck out 11 batters. But for the fifth time this season, Kershaw turned in a quality start and lost.

Kershaw's ERA held steady at 3.01. The Dodgers have scored zero, one or two runs in six of his nine losses this season.

"I can't worry about what our offense does," Kershaw said. "That is out of my control, other than getting my bunts down. That is really all I worry about."

Injury update

Right-hander Vicente Padilla will come off the 15-day disabled list, where he has been since Aug. 20 because of a bulging disc in his neck, in time to pitch Monday night at San Diego, Torre confirmed after the game. There had been some doubt about that after Padilla was hit in the right forearm by a line drive during his minor league rehabilitation start for advanced Single-A Inland Empire on Monday night, but that apparently is no longer a concern.

Minor matter

The infielder the Dodgers plan to recall from Triple-A Albuquerque along with catcher A.J. Ellis on Friday might be Justin Sellers, although that would be contingent on Sellers' being OK after a slight leg injury he suffered Tuesday night against Iowa.

Sellers, 24, was acquired from the Chicago Cubs in a minor league trade last summer. Originally drafted by the Oakland A's in the sixth round in 2005, he never has played in the majors. He does have some power, hitting 14 homers and driving in 55 runs since his midseason promotion from advanced Single-A Inland Empire to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He also hit .293 for the Isotopes with a .379 on-base percentage.

Looking ahead

After an off-day Thursday, the Dodgers begin a three-game series with the San Francisco Giants on Friday night at Dodger Stadium. Right-hander Chad Billingsley (10-8, 3.73) will take the mound for the Dodgers. He hasn't given up a run in 15& #8532; innings over his past two starts against the Giants, including a complete-game shutout on July 21. Giants left-hander Barry Zito (8-10, 4.07) has lost each of his past three starts and has taken a loss in each of his past four appearances. He hasn't won a game since pitching eight shutout innings against the New York Mets, giving up two hits, in his first start of the second half on July 16.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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