Joe Torre: Matt Kemp might be the best player in baseball

Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp might be the best player in baseball, former manager Joe Torre said Tuesday.

Torre, who attended the Dodgers home opener as a representative of the commissioner’s office, added this qualifier: “Because of his age.”

Of Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, Torre said, “We know what Albert is all about, but Albert’s a little older. So I think, age being considered, you would have to put [Kemp] in that category. It’s tough to say there’s one guy that belongs in that category, but he’s certainly one of them because he’s a game changer.”

Third baseman Miguel Cabrera and first baseman Prince Fielder of the Detroit Tigers also “have both age and ability on their side,” Torre said.

Kemp was 0 for 4 in the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, ending at 16 games a hitting streak dating to last season. But he drove in shortstop Dee Gordon on a first-inning groundout, tying the all-time franchise record for most consecutive games with a run batted in at nine. Kemp shares the record with Roy Campanella (May 30 to June 5, 1955) and Augie Galan (Sept. 18-28, 1944).

“I’m very proud of what he’s done and I’ve told him that a time or two,” Torre said.

Torre acknowledged he didn’t always see eye to eye with Kemp.

“Like any manager, you have things you agree on, things you don’t agree on,” Torre said. “He was challenging because, like a lot of young players, they’re going to make adjustments on their own. He was so talented, or he is so talented, that I think he just felt that his ability would speak for itself.”

Kemp was benched by Torre for three games in 2010 because of an in-game argument he with then-bench coach Bob Schaefer.

“Obviously, there were times I didn’t like what was happening,” Torre said. “It’s just every single day when you’re with somebody and you feel you want to help somebody through your experience … it doesn’t work with your kids. It’s not about to work with the players.”

Asked whether he found Kemp closed to instruction, Torre replied, “I don’t think closed. I think confident in what they could do.”

Said Kemp: “I’ve learned a lot over the few years.”

But Kemp insisted that he never had any issues with Torre.

Whatever their differences, Torre always liked some of Kemp’s character traits.

“He was always a kid that came to the ballpark wanting to play every single day. That tells you something,” Torre said.

Just wondering

What do you think of Fidel Castro?

Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly shook his head and laughed.

“I think I’ll stay out of that,” he said.

Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended for five games by his team for saying he respected the Cuban dictator for still being alive when so many people have wanted him dead.

Ted Lilly is on track

Ted Lilly remains in line to make his first start of the season for the Dodgers on Saturday. Lilly is on the disabled list because a stiff neck threw off his throwing program late in spring training.

Mattingly didn’t sound concerned that Lilly was hit hard in a Class-A game.

“You can’t worry about a rehab start,” Mattingly said. “It’s a lot like spring training.”

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