Dodgers are cold, but emotions flare

The baseball season is barely three weeks old, but the Dodgers already have a new controversy.

On the day the last-place Dodgers absorbed a sweep-sealing 7-3 defeat to the New York Mets at Citi Field that sent them home with a 2-7 record on this trip, Matt Kemp’s agent held nothing back while responding to critical comments made about his client the previous day by General Manager Ned Colletti.

Dave Stewart, the former All-Star pitcher who represents Kemp, said Wednesday that Colletti was using the center fielder as a scapegoat to shift blame from his own failures in assembling the team.

“What I would suggest for Ned Colletti to do is look at himself in the mirror,” Stewart said.

In a radio interview with Peter Tilden of KABC on Tuesday, Colletti said he thought some Dodgers players were overestimating their abilities and taking certain elements of the game for granted. When asked specifically about Kemp, Colletti said the outfielder’s baserunning and defense were “below average.” Colletti said he didn’t know whether Kemp was regressing as a result of his new two-year, $10.95-million contract.

The fallout prompted Colletti to call Kemp into a postgame meeting that also included Manager Joe Torre.

“I wanted to explain to him that I didn’t single out Matt Kemp,” Colletti said. “I was asked a question about it. It’s not one guy’s responsibility. It’s a team effort. It’s a team effort when it goes in the right direction. It’s a team effort when it doesn’t. It starts with me.”

Kemp declined to talk about the meeting, but Stewart said the reason Colletti offered for saying what he said wasn’t a valid one.

“No, not at all,” Stewart said. “To me, he didn’t need to answer the question. If anything, he should have said, ‘No comment.’ ”

Torre avoided taking sides.

“Well, when you have the best statistics, you’re going to get the most attention,” he said of Kemp.

Kemp, who leads the Dodgers with seven home runs and 20 runs batted in, sounded particularly disturbed by the implication that he was playing worse because he was a newly minted millionaire.

“The new deal, that has nothing to do with anything,” Kemp said. “Of course, it’s good to make money. But that’s not why I started playing this game. I started playing this game because I love the game, and I’m going to continue to love this game.”

Kemp was upset enough that when Casey Blake interrupted the interview by jokingly calling him a liar from a couple of lockers away, Kemp calmly but sternly told him to be quiet.

Stewart was less restrained.

“A man panicking is what it sounds like to me,” he said of Colletti.

Stewart said Colletti should take more responsibility for the Dodgers’ 8-13 start.

“He hired the manager,” Stewart said. “He hired the coaching staff. The players on the team were selected by him and the coaching staff.”

Stewart said that no player has called out Colletti for wasting tens of millions of dollars on Jason Schmidt or Andruw Jones, and that players deserved the same level of courtesy from their general manager.

Colletti and Stewart spoke Wednesday afternoon, but it was uncertain whether anything was resolved.

“I got a lot of respect for Dave Stewart and Matt Kemp,” Colletti said. “I’ve known Dave Stewart for a long time. His perspective is his. Everybody’s got their own. That’s all I want to say about it.”

Relayed Colletti’s comments, Stewart replied, “I have great respect for Ned Colletti, too, but that wasn’t the correct way to handle” the question posed to him by Tilden.

While Colletti insisted he didn’t single out Kemp, he didn’t take back anything he said about him.

“I know that I don’t see the same player that I saw at the end of last year,” Colletti said. “Maybe it’s early. Maybe that’s what it is. It’s not just Matt. I haven’t seen it across the board, with rare exception.”

Stewart defended Kemp.

“You have to look at the fact that Matt is a 25-year-old player,” Stewart said. “He’s been very successful, but you cannot forget the fact that he’s still learning to play the game. He’s only played center field for two years. He’s done everything the organization has asked him to do.”

Colletti said he spoke to Kemp during the Dodgers’ previous homestand. Has Colletti seen any evidence that his message was taken to heart?

“No,” he said. “Have you?”

Asked whether he perceived any changes in Kemp’s work habits, Colletti replied, “I don’t want to make this [about] Matt Kemp,” and proceeded to talk about the team’s shortcomings.

“We’re in the top of the lower half in pitching and we’re at the bottom in defense,” Colletti said. “If they had a category for execution, we’d be at the bottom half of that, too. It’s just time to get it better.”

Buy Dodgers tickets here

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.