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Matt Kemp is back in the swing, powers Dodgers past Giants

SportsLos Angeles DodgersMajor League BaseballBaseballMatt KempHanley RamirezYasiel Puig

As Yasiel Puig watched from the bench nursing a sprained ligament in his left thumb, Matt Kemp turned back time at Dodger Stadium.

Sunday, in the Dodgers' sweep-preventing 6-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants, Kemp hit the kinds of home runs he used to hit when he was considered baseball's best all-around player.

Kemp, who played in his first game of the season only two days earlier, sent a second-inning fastball from Matt Cain almost halfway up the left-field pavilion. Two innings later, he deposited another fastball from Cain over the outfield wall, this time to right-center field.

BOX SCORE: Dodgers 6, Giants 2

The home runs at Dodger Stadium were Kemp's first in more than 18 months. If the first was an ice breaker, the second was confirmation that he was back from the variety of ailments that slowed him down over the last two seasons.

"That's when I know when I'm seeing the ball good, when I'm driving the ball to right field," Kemp said. "That's my swing right there."

Zack Greinke had not seen Kemp do anything like this. Greinke's first Dodgers season was last year.

Of the pitch Kemp hit for his second home run, Greinke said, "I thought it was a decent pitch. It looked like an up-and-in fastball that no many hitters can get to. You don't see many guys able to hit that pitch like that."

For the Dodgers, who dropped the first two games of the series, what was shaping into a disastrous weekend could instead be the start of something extraordinary.

The Dodgers have never had both Kemp and Hanley Ramirez healthy and hitting. Ramirez also hit his first two home runs of the season on this night.

"Hanley is on a different level," Greinke said. "If Matt's like that, like he was today, you don't want to face this lineup."

Kemp batted sixth Sunday. But with more nights like this, he is certain to move into the middle of the lineup, where he will be more closely linked to Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez.

"That's a pretty good three-four-five," Gonzalez said.

Kemp agreed.

"Scary," he said.

Kemp's last two-homer game had been Sept. 29, 2012. His last home run at Dodger Stadium was hit a day later.

Kemp underwent a major shoulder operation. He returned last season, but without his trademark power. He strained a hamstring. He strained the hamstring again. He injured his ankle in a plate collision. He had another shoulder operation, this time for a cleanup. He also had surgery on his left ankle.

"Tough," Kemp said. "Just as simple as that. It's been tough."

Kemp didn't play in any major league spring-training games this year. When the Dodgers opened the season in Australia, he remained in Arizona to play in minor league games.

But the Dodgers sensed Kemp's power could return.

"We'd seen early in spring," Manager Don Mattingly said. "His BP was just different. A lot of carry on the ball and kind of that high finish we seen from him in the past."

Ramirez and Gonzalez appreciate what Kemp has endured, particularly the procedure he had in 2012 to repair a torn labrum. Ramirez and Gonzalez returned from similar surgeries.

As Kemp prepared for that surgery, Ramirez told him, "Stay strong mentally because it's not going to be easy."

As for Puig, who was injured Saturday sliding headfirst into first base, his status remains uncertain. He had X-rays taken of his left thumb, which came back negative.

But Puig's thumb was swollen Sunday and he had an MRI exam that revealed a sprained ligament, Mattingly said.

Mattingly said he thought Puig was day to day.

Puig, whose left hand was heavily bandaged after the game Sunday, didn't speak to reporters.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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SportsLos Angeles DodgersMajor League BaseballBaseballMatt KempHanley RamirezYasiel Puig
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