NEW YORK -- Twenty-four hours after Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti called out his team -- and specifically, center fielder Matt Kemp -- on a Los Angeles radio show, the issue had picked up considerable steam before the team's game with the New York Mets on Wednesday.
It got to the point that Colletti felt the need to clarify those comments, which he made on KABC's "The Peter Tilden Show," even as he steadfastly stood behind them.
"First of all, I didn't single Matt Kemp out,'' Colletti said. "I was asked a question by the radio station. They singled Matt Kemp out. I responded to that question the station had, that Peter had, regarding Matt Kemp, and it sounds like they didn't take any of it out of context. I'm not satisfied with how our club has played. We could have a record of 12-8 [instead of 8-12], and I would still feel that way. It's about the presentation, the execution and the thought process.''
Colletti told Tilden that Kemp's defense and baserunning were below average and wondered aloud whether Kemp's new contract -- a two-year, $10.95 million deal he agreed to in his first winter of arbitration eligibility after making just $467,000 last year, might have made Kemp a little too comfortable.
Kemp told reporters before Wednesday's game that his contract wasn't a factor in his play and pointed out that he works hard at his craft and shows up early to the ballpark on a regular basis.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who has often walked the fine line between blindly supporting players and publicly criticizing them, walked that line again.
"He is here early, and he gets a lot of work in,'' Torre said. "Again, that is physical stuff. A major part of this game is the mental part and being able to deal with failure. Most of us have an easy time dealing with success. But dealing with failure is important.''
Although the Dodgers were widely criticized during the winter for not upgrading their roster while the rest of the National League West appeared to get better, Colletti reiterated the fact these are largely the same players who not only won 95 games last season and made a second consecutive trip to the NL Championship Series, but also led the league in hitting and team ERA and finished tied for fourth in fielding percentage.
The Dodgers entered play Wednesday tied for the league lead in hitting (.284) with Milwaukee, but 12th in ERA (4.99) and last in team defense, with a league-leading 21 errors.
"If they had a category for execution, we would be in the bottom half of that, too,'' Colletti said. "It is just time to get better. It is basically the same club with rare exceptions. We won 95 games with Manny [Ramirez] missing 50 of them, with one of our top pitchers in Chad [Billingsley] having a tough second half and with Russell [Martin] having a tough time. For me, it's all about presentation and effort. If those were up to the standard we set for the organization, and Joe sets as well, and we were still 8-12, then so be it.''
Colletti said he spoke directly to Kemp during the team's recent homestand about the same issues he spoke to Tilden about.
"I know I'm not seeing the same player I saw at the end of last year,'' Colletti said. "That might just be because it's early. But it isn't just Matt Kemp. I haven't seen it really across the board, with rare exceptions. This sport is comprised of individuals, but it is a team sport. ... I don't want to make this just about Matt Kemp. The Dodgers are 8-12.''
Colletti conceded that he probably will need to meet privately with Kemp regarding his comments to Tilden.
"He knows where I'm at, and I know where he is at,'' Colletti said.
Shortstop Rafael Furcal remained out of the starting lineup, as expected, because of tightness in his left hamstring. Torre said Furcal might be sent for medical testing after the team returns to Los Angeles, which it was scheduled to do immediately after the game. & Torre remained noncommittal about the immediate future of knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, who is 0-3 with a 7.45 ERA and hasn't pitched especially well in any of his four starts this season.
Torre reiterated that he is considering one of two relievers, veteran Ramon Ortiz or rookie Carlos Monasterios, for a spot start Saturday night against Pittsburgh, the next time Haeger's spot in the rotation comes up.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.