Kemp discusses benching with Torre
SAN FRANCISCO -- Upon seeing his name missing from the starting lineup for the third consecutive game, Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp finally approached manager Joe Torre on Tuesday afternoon, and the two had a closed-door meeting in the visiting manager's office at AT&T Park that Torre later characterized as a positive conversation.
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Torre also said Kemp will return to the lineup on Wednesday. Asked if that would be the case if Kemp hadn't approached him, Torre said, "I don't know that.''
Kemp, however, was quickly called into duty Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants when slugger Manny Ramirez got injured running the bases in the top of the first. He replaced Ramirez at second base, then went to center field on defense in the bottom of the first. Kemp ended the night 2-for-4 with a strikeout as the Dodgers won 4-2.
Before meeting with Torre, Kemp told reporters he was raring to go.
"I'm ready to play today, I'm ready to play tomorrow, and I'm ready to play any game,'' Kemp said. "This is just how it is right now. We'll just see how it goes.''
Kemp entered both Sunday's and Monday's games as a late-inning defensive replacement, but didn't come to the plate in either one. He entered Tuesday hitting .258 for the season but only .196 in June.
In 14 plate appearances starting with Thursday's series finale against the Angels then the first two games with the Yankees last weekend, Kemp struck out eight times. That after he was picked off in Wednesday's 2-1 loss with the Dodgers down by a run after heads-up baserunning had been stressed entering the series against the Angels.
"I just think he's been frustrated he hasn't been hitting as well as he probably expected," Torre said of the fifth-year major leaguer the Dodgers had considered a budding star.
Kemp declined to offer much insight into his reaction to the benching.
"I hide my emotions,'' Kemp said. "If something is bothering me, I'm not going to let [the media] or anybody see that I'm mad. That is just how I have always been. I get mad all the time. I'm just not one of those show-emotions type of guys. But I do care, and what is going on right now, I feel like if I had played better, we definitely would have more ground on where we're at right now. And we're still in it, still close. But I think we'd be an even better team if I was hitting the way I'm capable of hitting.
"So it hurts when I feel like I'm not helping the team.''
Torre continued to offer little in the way of details as to what the issue was that had caused Kemp's sudden benching other than to point to Kemp's on-field performance.
"He has been struggling, and that has been frustrating for him,'' Torre said. "Hopefully, this couple of days will give him a chance to breathe a little bit. This is a tough game to play, and you don't really get the chance to re-group.''
Torre was coy when asked about the tone of the meeting.
"We both talked,'' he said. "I told him at the end of the conversation that he will play [Wednesday], and we will go from there. It was no problem, put it that way. I don't want to give you the impression that it wasn't [cordial].''
Finally, Torre was asked whether Kemp is open to advice on adjustments he needs to make from hitting coach Don Mattingly or anyone else on the staff.
Again, Torre was coy.
"Matt is no different from any other player,'' Torre said. "If we have something to say to players, whether it's Donnie, me [or other coaches], we tell them. This really has been no different in that regard as far as how we go about our business. He is frustrated because he hasn't been hitting as well as he expected. That has been frustrating for him.''
So, what's next? There's already speculation general manager Ned Colletti might try to trade Kemp considering the club is looking for a front-line starting pitcher to carry the load in the second half.
"It's not my decision, long-term or whatever," Kemp said. "That's not up to me. My job is to come out here and be a good teammate and play hard."
Kemp said he was happy Los Angeles was able to bounce back from a tough 10-inning loss to the Yankees on Sunday -- the Dodgers blew a late four-run lead -- to beat the Giants on Monday.
Still, he wants to play. Kemp has been studying video each day and taking early hitting in the cage.
"Everything's great," he said. "It's frustrating, but it's baseball. I wish I could hit every day and do good. I know I'm a good baseball player. I've played this game for a while. I'll get my swag back."
Torre didn't tell Kemp in advance he wouldn't play Sunday's series finale against New York, but said that's not how he manages.
"It doesn't mean you're mad at them if you don't write their name in the lineup," Torre said. "I thought he needed a rest. ... I get the chance to write the lineup every day. I get to choose who I want to put in."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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