Dodgers noncommittal about role of Vladimir Shpunt


Those employed by Frank McCourt have been noticeably uncomfortable when asked in recent days about Vladimir Shpunt, the 71-year-old Russian healer who was paid by the Dodgers owner and his estranged wife to send positive energy to the team from his Boston-area home.

“Don’t ask me about something like that,” one player said.

Even Manager Joe Torre, a master of handling crisis situations, did what he could to stay clear of the subject.

Torre, who said he was unaware of Shpunt’s existence until it was reported in The Times last week, insisted he hasn’t read the paper’s story — in part to avoid having to answer questions about it.

Torre’s first season with the Dodgers was Shpunt’s last. Asked whether he felt the division title won by the Dodgers in 2008 was in any way tainted because of help they received from Shpunt, Torre replied, “I’m not going there.”

A member of the 14-person committee that reviews on-field issues, Torre would not say whether the use of sorcery was raised during the group’s conference call last week.

“I’m not allowed to divulge what goes on in our conference calls, but thanks for asking,” he said.

Does Torre consider the use of long-distance energy transfers cheating?

“Don’t bother me,” he said. “Please don’t bother me.”

Shpunt, who was paid bonuses of at least six figures, claimed he could improve a team’s chances of winning by 10% to 15%. Told that Shpunt might have had a greater impact on the Dodgers than he had, Torre smiled and said, “I’m against domestic violence, but you’re not a member of my family.”

Did Torre ever feel “V energy”?

“Get out of here,” he said.

Kemp rests

Matt Kemp was out of the Dodgers’ lineup for the first time this season, as Torre opted to start Reed Johnson in center field instead.

Kemp ended a streak of 86 consecutive games dating to last season. He had played in every inning this season except for three of an extra-inning game.

Kemp said he felt fine physically.

“That’s what you prepare in the off-season for,” he said.

But Torre said he didn’t like what he was seeing at the plate from Kemp, who entered the game 0 for his last 15.

“He goes through streaks like that, but he just doesn’t look as sure of himself,” Torre said. “It’s been hanging on. I just thought, ‘Let’s try it,’ especially with the day off [Monday], just give him a mind break more so than the physical part. He’s as strong as an ox, but the mind stuff wears you down.”

Including his ninth-inning strikeout on Sunday — Kemp entered the game as a defensive replacement in the top half of the inning — he is batting .240 in his last 37 games.

“I’m not a superhero like you think I am,” Kemp said. “I’m working on some things. We’ll get it going again.”

Short hops

James Loney stole his ninth base, tying him with Kemp and Rafael Furcal for the team lead.... The Dodgers raised more than $315,000 for cancer research over ThinkCure Weekend. The foundation’s online auction at will conclude Monday The Dodgers signed 46th-round pick Bret Montgomery, a 6-foot-7 right-hander from Cal State Dominguez Hills.