SAN DIEGO — After the Dodgers’ 9-3 defeat to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday, Matt Kemp spoke at length about his early-season slump — how he wasn’t driving in runs, how frustrated he felt, how he knew he would start hitting in the near future and so forth.
Suddenly, Kemp appeared to be struck by the absurdity of it all and started to giggle.
“I’ve probably hit into a double play damn near every game,” he said, shaking his head.
Told he grounded into three in the Dodgers’ first seven games, Kemp laughed.
“I have to stop doing that, man,” Kemp said. “That’s an inning killer right there. That kills innings.”
Kemp didn’t ground into any double plays in the Padres’ home opener on this day, but the fundamental problem remained the same for him and the Dodgers: the inability to hit with men on base.
The Dodgers were one for nine in such situations, the lone hit coming from Adrian Gonzalez, who singled in the seventh inning to tie the game, 3-3. The squandered opportunities doomed the Dodgers, whose record dropped to 4-3 as their bullpen gave up a combined six runs in the seventh and eighth innings.
Gonzalez is five for nine with men in scoring position this season. The rest of the team is five for 54 (.093), with Kemp 0 for 11.
Kemp struck out in the first inning with men on first and second. He grounded out in the seventh inning with Carl Crawford on second base.
The National League leader in runs batted in in 2011, Kemp underwent a shoulder operation last winter. He has maintained his shoulder isn’t bothering him.
“It’s just frustrating because I know I’ve missed some pitches that I normally hit,” said Kemp, who is batting .120 with no home runs this season. “I’ve got to think about hitting the ball to right-center, not trying to pull that ball, letting that ball get deep, trusting my hands. That’s it. We’ll be good. I’ll be dangerous.”
He said what made his dip in form particularly maddening was the first two hitters in the lineup, Crawford and Mark Ellis, are reaching base consistently. Crawford is batting .458 and Ellis .348.
“I have to get in that mix of helping my team, at least moving runners over or driving those runs in or getting on base for Adrian,” Kemp said. “I just have to do a better job of that. Once that happens, we’ll be a pretty dangerous team.”
Besides the one Gonzalez drove in, the Dodgers’ only runs came on a two-run home run by Juan Uribe, who appeared to benefit from the shortened porch at renovated Petco Park. Long considered one of baseball’s most pitcher-friendly venues, Petco Park now features a right-field wall that is 11 feet closer to home plate than it was last season.
The Dodgers claimed to take comfort in the fact their hitters were reaching base. They collected 10 hits, including eight in five innings against Padres starter Clayton Richard.
“Teams that get the most guys out there leave the most runners,” Manager Don Mattingly said. “The key for us to keep getting runners out there. I know the percentages will kind of fall in our favor.”
Gonzalez also called for calm, pointing out the Dodgers were only seven games into their season.
“It’s just early,” Gonzalez said. “Guys are still trying to find their swings.”