The position player the Dodgers tried the hardest to trade last winter might be the one they can least afford to lose right now, which is why the team held its breath when left fielder Matt Kemp limped back to his spot after slamming into the wall in pursuit of a home run in the eighth inning Friday night.
Kemp remained in the game, an eventual 8-7 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and his injury — a bruised right knee — appears minor, especially when compared to the left-shoulder tear he suffered when he crashed into the Coors Field wall in August 2012.
"I'm good, man, it ain't even nothing to write about," Kemp said. "Trust me, I'll be in there [Saturday]."
The Dodgers acquired Kemp in December for pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and infielder Charlie Culberson, not because of his bat but because of his contract, which nearly offset the money owed to Gonzalez, Kazmir and McCarthy.
By spreading the remaining $43 million on Kemp's deal across two seasons, the Dodgers could reduce their luxury-tax payroll below the $197-million threshold for 2018.
The Dodgers were expected to flip Kemp, who spent nine seasons with the club before being traded to San Diego in 2015, but Kemp reported to spring training in excellent shape and hit so well during Cactus League play that he won the left-field job.
Twelve games into the season, Kemp is batting .333 with an .885 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, one homer, three doubles and four RBIs, including a run-scoring single in a three-run seventh inning Friday night as the Dodgers nearly rallied back from a 7-2 deficit.
The rest of the offense, with the exception of .361-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal and .304-hitting first baseman Cody Bellinger, is struggling, which is one reason the defending National League-champion Dodgers are 4-8 this season, 0-4 against the Diamondbacks.
Three regulars — Yasiel Puig, Logan Forsythe and Enrique Hernandez — are batting below .200. Chris Taylor is hitting .226, and Corey Seager .213.
"We're not panicking," Kemp said. "We have a long ways to go."
This is a common refrain heard around the National League. The Dodgers, who went 104-58 and won the NL West by 11 games last season, are in fourth place.
The defending NL Central-champion Chicago Cubs are off to a 6-7 start and also in fourth place after going 92-70 and winning the division by six games in 2017. And the Washington Nationals, who went 97-65 and won the division by 20 games last season, are 6-8 and in fourth place in the NL East.
So, two weeks into 2018, three teams that combined to go 293-193 and win their divisions by a combined 37 games are a combined 16-23 and 14½ games back in their divisions.
"It's not ideal, it's not what we expected, but we're playing some good teams," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "We're just not synched up, whether it's the pitching and the hitting is not there one day, or vice versa.
"Guys in the bullpen have thrown the ball well up until the last couple of days. Offensively, we have to continue to be relentless with our at-bats and be the offensive club that I know that we can be, that we've seen."
The Dodgers, who entered the week at or near the bottom of virtually every NL offensive category, nearly replicated some of their 2017 comeback magic Friday night when Bellinger homered in the sixth and Taylor, Seager and Kemp hit consecutive RBI singles in the seventh.
The Dodgers trailed 7-5 after Kemp muscled a 97-mph fastball from Archie Bradley through the middle and into center field, and they had runners on first and third with two out. Bellinger crushed a ball to deep center field that was caught on the warning track for the final out.
The Dodgers pulled to within 8-7 in the eighth inning when Chase Utley's grounder, which was headed right to shortstop Nick Ahmed, hit the second-base bag and caromed into shallow left field for a two-run single.
They had runners on first and third for Taylor, who led off the first inning with a homer, but Taylor swung at a first pitch from Bradley and grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. Closer Brad Boxberger allowed a hit in a scoreless ninth to notch the save.
"There were some at-bats we put together, we got a little luck, and for us to get Archie into the game, to go one-plus inning and throw a lot of pitches, was a good thing for us," Roberts said. "To get their closer in a game we were seemingly out of for a long time is another positive, and our offense showed some life."
There was also some of the usual impatience at the plate and expansion of the strike zone. With two on and two outs in the first, Puig waved meekly at a full-count changeup near his ankles for an inning-ending strikeout.
The Dodgers pressured Arizona starter Zack Greinke in the first inning, but Greinke retired 15 of 16 batters from the end of the first to the sixth inning.