Reporting from Mesa, Ariz.
Would you give a green light to a guy who got caught stealing almost half the time last season?
Matt Kemp was thrown out 15 times last season. He stole 19 bases. Of the other five major leaguers thrown out at least 15 times, none stole fewer than 32 bases.
“They’ve always had confidence in me to get the job done,” Kemp said, “Even last year, when I was not as successful, they still had the green light on.”
The Dodgers will have the green light on again for Kemp this season, according to Manager Don Mattingly. However, in his role as the Dodgers’ new baserunning coach, Davey Lopes will be empowered to turn off the light if necessary.
“If a guy shows you he runs you out of innings or runs into outs, you have to take control of the running game a little more,” Lopes said. “What happened last year, I’m not concerned with. It’s a clean slate.”
Kemp has the potential to be a dynamic offensive threat. The only players to hit 25 home runs and steal 25 bases last season were Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies and Chris Young of the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2009, Kemp hit 26 homers and stole 34 bases.
Kemp said he believes he can steal 40 bases this year.
“Out of 40,” he said. “I don’t want to ever get thrown out.”
Lopes said the best baserunners know when to run — and when not to.
“Some guys think that, because of their speed and ability, they can steal at any time, in any situation, against any given pitcher,” Lopes said. “That’s when you get hurt.
“In a sequence of seven or eight pitches, a pitcher may give you one pitch to steal. He may slow down his motion one time. If you’re not ready, you’re going to miss your opportunity.
“That concentration level? A lot of guys don’t sustain it.”
Lopes wouldn’t say how many bases he believes Kemp could steal, but he smiled when he heard Kemp had said 40.
“I hope he does,” Lopes said. “I hope it’s 40 productive stolen bases, 40 high-percentage stolen bases.
“I don’t like a guy who steals 50 and gets thrown out 30 times.”
That would be a success rate of 63%. Kemp’s success rate last season was 56%.
Mattingly said he would not be compelled to carry a second left-hander in the bullpen beyond Hong-Chih Kuo.
“I want the best arms,” Mattingly said. “For years, we’d go into Anaheim and [Angels Manager Mike] Scioscia wouldn’t have a lefty down there.”
The Dodgers’ bullpen is expected to include Kuo and four right-handers — Matt Guerrier, Kenley Jansen, Blake Hawksworth and closer Jonathan Broxton. That leaves one or two spots for a group that includes left-handers Scott Elbert and Ron Mahay and right-handers Ramon Troncoso, Carlos Monasterios, Travis Schlichting and Mike Macdougal.
Mattingly added he did not want a so-called situational left-hander, the kind of pitcher who faces one batter — Adrian Gonzalez or Ryan Howard, say — and then leaves the game.
“That can kind of blow out your staff,” Mattingly said.
Carlos Gonzalez, the top left-handed hitter in the National League West, batted .320 against left-handers last season and .345 against right-handers.