Matt Kemp returns, again, and now what? It might not be good, for Kemp.
Don Mattingly finally faces his quandary of figuring out how to squeeze four starting outfielders into three spots. For the moment, that’s not as challenging as was a few weeks ago.
His solution Sunday was to sit the one outfielder he previously said would play every day, Yasiel Puig.
But that’s when Puig was batting .443 and looking like a ballplayer conceived in the Marvel comic books universe. Not the one who’s hit .222 since aggravating his hip July 3 running into the wall at Coors Field. And he had four days off at the All-Star break, so short-term rest doesn’t appear any solution.
Meanwhile, Carl Crawford’s play hasn’t exactly demanded time since he returned from his hamstring injury. He’s gone 3 for 32 (.094).
After Sunday’s game in Washington, the Dodgers head to Toronto, where the designated hitter is available and theoretically all four can start.
After that, though, Mattingly will be in serious juggling mode. If you believe Crawford is rounding into shape and Puig is simply going through an expected young player’s struggles, then the more interesting case becomes Kemp.
Kemp essentially has not hit all season long. He’s easily experiencing the worst year of his career, batting .254 with four homers and 24 RBIs in 224 at-bats.
The easy explanation is Kemp is still not fully recovered from major offseason shoulder surgery, despite his adamant claims otherwise. Whether that’s true or not, the Dodgers are no longer in position to be overly patient with his return to form.
August is approaching and the Dodgers have climbed back into the race. Every game is important, and Mattingly has repeatedly said he will field the lineup that gives him the best chance to win every day.
Oddly, that no longer automatically includes Kemp. Not at the way his season has gone. Mattingly hit Kemp sixth in his return Sunday, so nothing is assured.
Despite the team being built around him, despite being in the second year of his $160-million contract, Kemp is going to have to prove he currently deserves to be in the lineup every day.
I’m not talking about over the next five years of his contract, but right now, this season, with a pennant to be won. If Kemp continues to hit as he has in 2013 and is almost the weak link of the four outfielders, his playing time will have to suffer. Not sure how his ego will react to that.
Kemp is very proud, and despite the easygoing nature he can put forth, you can be assured he is struggling mentally with his play on the field.
But it’s a results business and the time has come for Kemp to produce in 2013. Maybe another injury or a worse slump from somewhere else makes Mattingly’s four-headed outfielder dilemma a non-starter. Otherwise, the time is at hand for Kemp.