He lives. Matt Kemp played baseball Friday night. It had been so long since he was in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ lineup that Left Coast fans might have thought he had become an endangered species. The way Kemp played it was as if he had not spent a month-and-a-half with an annoying left hamstring strain.
Kemp, who seems to be gaining a groundwell of support lately for the title of Best Player In Baseball, returned to the lineup for the first time since May 31 and went 2-for-4. LA, which went 24-27 in the 51 games Kemp missed, beat the San Diego Padres, 2-1.
It wasn’t as if the 6-foot-4, 225-pound in-his-prime, 27-year-old slugger took a couple of ABs to regain his stroke, either. First time up, first inning, Kemp smacked a double to center off of Padre hurler Clayton Richard.
Second time up Kemp slashed a single to left-center. This is exactly the type of stuff Kemp was doing throughout April and May before the hamstring got him. So in 36 games this season Kemp is batting .360 with 12 homers and 28 RBIs.
Last season, in what truly was Kemp’s breakout year, he led the National League in home runs with 39 and led the league in RBIs with 126. Kemp batted .324. He was runner-up in the Most Valuable Player voting to Ryan Braun of the Brewers.
Almost from the moment the season ended, the Dodgers began building a better supporting cast around Kemp. The team and Kemp got off to terrific starts. But the Dodgers without Kemp are not a force and they urgently needed him back and back to his superb self.
Cracking two hits in this first game after such a long absence sent a message to the rest of the National League West. It was kind of a special delivery letter of warning. I’m back, Kemp proclaimed. If you dilly-dallied around in the standings while I was on leave, you blew it. Now we’re gonna get you.
That is certainly the view from Dodgertown. The Dodgers injury problems were more widespread than missing Kemp, as if that wasn’t enough. They were also missing another starting outfielder, Andre Ethier, and coincidentally, and happily for LA, Ethier was also activated from the disabled list Friday and propelled directly into the lineup.
Ethier was not sidelined nearly as long as Kemp. He has played in 75 games and has 10 homers, 55 RBIs, and a .291 average. For the Dodgers, it was as if they went to the grocery store on Friday looking to take advantage of a sale on steaks and as a bonus discovered there was also a sale on salmon. They filled the cart.
Los Angeles held the fort against the odds with Kemp and Ethier out. Now the Dodgers are basically at full strength and after Friday’s action they already have a half-game lead on the Giants in the division. It seems it should only get better from here on out for the Dodgers.