Matt Kemp walked into the Dodgers’ clubhouse late after their 3-2 loss to the Brewers on Monday, and Andre Ethier greeted him with:
“We got some reinforcements!”
Ah, yes, the return of Kemp. Good news for the Dodgers, certainly. Exciting news, really.
Not that it doesn’t come with one little caveat.
The Dodgers cannot afford to relax with the return of Kemp. Cannot let their guard down, figure all will be better now and loosen the reins.
They have to use his coming off the disabled list as a spark, not a moment to exhale. Have to keep the pressure on, the intensity ratcheted.
Kemp can lead, but not be asked to take over.
“It’s not probably something I’ll really talk about, but I think we have to get contributions,” said Manager Don Mattingly. “We still don’t know how Matt’s going to come back.
“We can’t expect Matt to come back and everything is good. He has to do his part, everybody else needs to keep doing their thing. It’s going to have to be a group effort, just like it has been for the most part.”
After Kemp initially injured his hamstring, he continued to play, but not well. In his last seven games, he hit .200 (4 for 20) with only one run batted in. His batting average fell from .392 to .359.
During his brief two-game rehab stint at triple-A Albuquerque, he certainly appeared healthy again (five for seven, five RBIs, two home runs). Yet it’s uncertain exactly how quickly he can regain his prior form, assuming he can; he was playing at the highest level in the National League before his injury.
Without him, the Dodgers went a healthy 9-5 and actually gained a half-game over the Giants in the NL West. Tony Gwynn Jr. mostly filled in at center and hit .304 with six runs scored and three stolen bases.
“That’s why you call it a team, right? We talked about it during spring training; it’s going to take more than one guy to do this,” Mattingly said. “We’re going to need contributions all around that clubhouse, and we’re getting it.
“We kind of survived this 15-day period. There’s a lot of baseball to be played. We know there’s a long way to go and [Kemp’s return] just makes us a little bit stronger.”
Just as long as they don’t expect the reinforcements to carry too great a load.