Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are early to rise with Dodgers
Reporting from Phoenix — The Dodgers’ position players don’t have to report to spring training until next week, but Matt Kemp was already in camp Tuesday with the team’s pitchers and catchers, talking about how he intends to follow up one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history.
Kemp reiterated his previously stated goal of becoming the first player in major league history to hit 50 home runs and steal 50 bases in the same season. He said he also wants to win the most-valuable-player award.
“You have to set your limits even higher than you want them to be,” said Kemp, who last year finished a home run short of becoming baseball’s fifth 40-40 player.
The Dodgers’ other franchise player, Clayton Kershaw, also is faced with the challenge of matching or surpassing a historic season. He won the National League’s Cy Young Award last year, leading the league in wins, earned-run average and strikeouts.
But Kershaw is as guarded as Kemp is bold. If he has individual goals, he wasn’t saying Tuesday what they were.
Manager Don Mattingly, who didn’t waste time naming Kershaw as his opening day starter, said he believes the 23-year-old left-hander is capable of more.
“You want him to get better and you feel like he can,” Mattingly said.
Mattingly cautioned that an improvement in performance won’t necessarily translate into better numbers.
“Clayton can go out and pitch better and maybe not have as many wins,” Mattingly said. “Sometimes, that’s the way it goes.”
Kershaw insisted his only goals are collective ones.
“Win,” Kershaw said. “It’s all that matters.”
Kershaw acknowledged he enjoyed attending award banquets in the off-season. And he earned a significant raise, from $500,000 last season to $19 million over the next two years.
But Kershaw called last season “a disappointment” because of the Dodgers’ inability to reach the playoffs.
A Texas native and resident, Kershaw talked about how difficult it was to be home as the Rangers advanced to the World Series. “It makes me realize how much I want to be there,” he said.
Kemp, who signed an eight-year, $160-million deal in November, also said he felt an urgency to win.
“I want to win bad, man,” he said. “This is the year. Every year I want to win, but I feel like this year we need to turn things around and get back on track.”
That urgency prompted Kemp to speak to free-agent slugger Prince Fielder several times during the off-season.
“I was getting my recruiting on,” Kemp said.
Kemp said that at one point this winter, he thought he and Fielder would be in the same lineup.
“I didn’t know Detroit was in,” Kemp said.
The Detroit Tigers responded to a potentially season-ending injury to Victor Martinez by offering Fielder a nine-year, $214-million contract that he accepted. The Dodgers had offered Fielder a seven-year deal worth around $160 million.
The Dodgers’ failures as a team last season, largely a byproduct of their offensive shortcomings, were probably why Kemp finished second in the MVP vote to Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Kemp said what bothered him most about his runner-up finish was that it prevented him from fulfilling a promise he made to his mentor, former Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe.
Newcombe works in the Dodgers’ front office and speaks to Kemp before most home games.
“I promised I would win him the MVP,” Kemp said. “I feel like I kind of let him down. That’s the only reason I’m a little disappointed about that.”
As much as he wants an MVP trophy, Kemp said he doesn’t want last year’s, regardless of whether Braun is suspended for 50 games for violating baseball’s drug policy. Braun is appealing a positive drug test from the postseason.
“I would want to win by them voting me,” he said. “I wouldn’t want them to just [say], ‘Oh, this person did that so how about we just give the award to this person?’ I don’t think it should work that way. If it is that way, then it should be a vacant award for 2011; no one should win the MVP award in the National League.”
Kemp said he hopes Braun is vindicated.
“We’ve been friends,” Kemp said. “He’s been one of my favorite players in the big leagues. I hope it’s not true.”
Kemp said he wants to honor the promise he made to Newcombe, and do so without any controversy. “I just have to get it for him this year,” he said.
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