Sports

Dodgers run into an old mistake

SportsCrime, Law and JusticeAtlanta BravesCrimeRafael FurcalJoe TorreJeff Kent

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- On the first day of a new exhibition season, an old problem resurfaced.

Two innings into the opening game of Joe Torre's managerial reign and a spring that will probably be the Dodgers' last in Dodgertown, Matt Kemp tried to go from first to third on a single to left field, diving head-first into the corner bag where James Loney was standing.

But third base coach Larry Bowa didn't unleash one of his trademark tirades on the 23-year-old right fielder, whose similar mistakes last season became too common for the liking of some of the veterans. Bowa remained equally calm when Russell Martin and Chin-lung Hu's mistakes on the basepaths resulted in them being thrown out.

In fact, Bowa was laughing as he recalled Kemp's mistake in the Dodgers' 5-4 comeback victory over the Atlanta Braves at Holman Stadium.

"Not only did he hit second with his head down, but he ran between second to third with it down," a chuckling Bowa said. "If this happens about three or four times, then we'll have a meeting."

A meeting? "A one-way meeting," he replied.

Bowa said he expected something of this nature to happen, as Torre and his coaches had been informed by General Manager Ned Colletti about the tendencies of the young players they were inheriting. Torre also downplayed Kemp's baserunning error, saying, "You don't have problems in spring training. This is a learning curve you go through right now."

The sequence in question started when Mark Sweeney singled with the bases loaded and drove in Andruw Jones. With the Braves outfield playing shallow because winds were blowing in, Bowa said he decided to put the brakes on Loney, whom he called a "below-average runner." Loney stopped, but Kemp never did.

Noting that Kemp beat the throw to third by shortstop Brent Lillibridge, Bowa said, "Because he's such a gifted athlete, he thinks he can score from anywhere on the field. He probably can, but he's got to realize who's in front of him. They can't score from anywhere on the field."

Kemp, who last season downplayed the baserunning errors he made in victories, acknowledged his mistake. "Next time," he said, "I know not to run with my head down."

Bowa and Torre both spoke to Kemp, who was two for three with a double, as well as Martin and Hu. Martin was attempting to steal second in the third inning when Jeff Kent popped up. Continuing to run to second because he was duped by the opposing middle infielders into thinking that Kent had hit a grounder, Martin was doubled off. Hu was caught stealing second in the seventh with a man on third and no outs.

As it was for Bowa and Torre, the game was the first in a Dodgers uniform for Jones, the center fielder signed this winter for $36.2 million. Facing his team of the last 11-plus seasons, Jones batted fifth, behind Juan Pierre, Rafael Furcal, Martin and Kent.

Braves starter Tim Hudson, who shared a clubhouse with Jones for three years, jokingly said that the five-time All-Star surprised him. Hudson said he "challenged" Jones with three fastballs that missed the plate. Jones kept the bat on his shoulder. Two pitches later, he was on base with a walk.

Jones finished 0 for 1 with two walks.

Chad Billingsley, first scheduled to start for the Dodgers, threw 45 pitches in a simulated game instead because of a tight right groin that he had wrapped. Torre said the decision to scratch Billingsley was precautionary and the 23-year old right-hander reported no problems, adding that he should be able to take his next turn in the rotation on Monday.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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