Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Tag: Matt Kemp (Page 2 of 15)

Down but not out, the Dodgers can still make a splash

Jill Weisleder/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jill Weisleder/Los Angeles Dodgers

Things happen that you don’t expect. Things happen that you should expect but aren’t ready for. Prepare, step up and believe.

— Jon Weisman

Matt Kemp, grinder

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By Jon Weisman

This was big. It was loud in here tonight. We continue to grind.

I just continue to grind. This is where I want to be. Last year, it was tough, battling the injuries, but I came back strong, I kept grinding, my teammates were behind me, my family was behind me, we kept grinding and here we are now.

This was big right here. On this stage, in the playoffs, this was a must win for us, we needed this. Gonna continue to grind, go to St. Louis and get two more wins.

We told each other when J.P gave up that home run, we’re gonna back him up. We were gonna find a way to win this game. That’s what good teams do. We back each other up when we make mistakes. We just keep on going.

— Matt Kemp

Kemp

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Right field, Dodger Stadium, 3:37 p.m.

Sun horiz 1

By Jon Weisman

This was the view from the warning track in right field at 3:37 p.m. Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, exactly three days before the first pitch of the 2014 National League Division Series between the Dodgers and the Cardinals.

Come Friday, the ballpark will be empty of sprinklers but full of intensity and fans, waving towels, while that sun slowly drops like a magnum fly ball. The current forecast, by the way, is for a high of 97 degrees.

Standing in the field, even in sunglasses, I found it hard to believe that our lifegiving sun wouldn’t prove a death-defying experience for the game’s right fielders, but a chipper Matt Kemp said Tuesday that defense wouldn’t be an issue. Offense was another matter.

“You can see the ball in right field,” Kemp said. “It’s seeing the ball at the plate, which is important to scoring runs. So you know, I’m going to swing with my eyes closed and see what happens.”

photo 1

As you can see in the photo above, shadows won’t have crossed the Dodger Stadium infield at first pitch. But you’ll see them lurking off the third-base line, ready to creep and make facing Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright that much more perilous or paralyzing.

“You know, honestly, I don’t get why we play during the shadow times, but it’s one of those games,” Kemp said. “But both teams got to do it  — we’ve got to find a way to win.”

Matt Kemp named September’s NL Player of the Month

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Matt Kemp, who in September led the National League in home runs (nine) and slugging percentage (.700) and was third in weighted runs created (192), was named the league’s Player of the Month.

Kemp previously won this honor in April 2012. In August, he won his fifth NL Player of the Week award.

In the second half of 2014, Kemp was No. 2 offensive player in the NL, according to Fangraphs, behind San Francisco catcher Buster Posey.

Clayton Kershaw had a 1.95 ERA in September but fell short of his third NL Pitcher of the Month award for 2014, losing out to his opposing number for Friday’s National League Division Series opener, St. Louis righty Adam Wainwright, who had a 1.38 ERA.

— Jon Weisman

Turner bout is fair play: Utility sensation helps Dodgers clinch tie for division title

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By Jon Weisman

The past two nights, I couldn’t pre-write.

Normally, if I’m writing about a game or even just some aspect of a game, I’ll get it going in the middle innings. But in these games against the Giants, I was so sure the angle would keep switching that I couldn’t do it. And with Monday’s life-on-the-edge game, that anxiety was validated.

Then came tonight:

  • In the first inning, Zack Greinke shut out the Giants, and Justin Turner homered.
  • In the eighth inning, Zack Greinke shut out the Giants, and Justin Turner homered.

The Dodgers took the lead early, extended it late, and lo and behold, they clinched a tie for the National League West title tonight with a 4-2 victory over San Francisco.

The victory and share of the division comes with Clayton Kershaw taking the mound in his final start of the regular season Wednesday. That’s how soon the Dodgers can claim the NL West outright.

Against all reality, Turner’s dream season continues to get dreamier. His two home runs tonight matched his season totals in 2012 and again in 2013 for the New York Mets, who made Turner a castoff left unsigned by every Major League team until a week before his reporting date to Camelback Ranch. He now has a .397 on-base percentage and .482 slugging percentage in 315 plate appearances.

“Going around those bases, I was floating,” Turner said of his second homer to SportsNet LA’s Alanna Rizzo. “It was a good feeling, and the guys in here were beating the crap out of me and bubbles were flying everywhere. It was a good time.”

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Don Mattingly on Matt Kemp’s improved mechanics

Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago Cubs

Giants at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Justin Turner, 2B
Yasiel Puig, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Scott Van Slyke, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Zack Greinke, P

By Jon Weisman

Matt Kemp turned 30 today, and his birthday comes at a happy time in his career. With a .363 on-base percentage and .580 slugging percentage, Kemp is among other things the No. 5 hitter in the big leagues in the second half of 2014, according to wRC+ (weighted runs created plus).

Much of this has been attributed to Kemp’s improved health, but as Don Mattingly discussed today (audio above), an adjustment to Kemp’s mechanics has also been a factor.

“I think the biggest change Matt’s made is to straighten up,” Mattingly said. “I think you see him taller, you see his feet a little bit more straight. A guy that dives or is striding into the plate, he limits himself what he can do.”

Mattingly drew a comparison between this and the mechanics of Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, an earlier topic of discussion today, noting the effect of unusual angles Bumgarner uses.

“As a hitter, when you cross into the plate and you dive, you block yourself off certain parts of the plate you can’t handle and you can’t get to,” Mattingly continued. “Certain areas and even certain areas on both sides, you get cut off, and you don’t have the same leverage. So to me, with Matt straightening up, he was able to get through the ball a lot better and really create more bat speed and then backspin.”

Breaking down the breakdown: What happened with Puig and Kemp on that fly ball?

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By Jon Weisman

The costly (though thankfully not injurious) mishap between Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp in the third inning Monday belied the smooth communication the Dodgers have had in the outfield since Puig became their center fielder.

Though casual observers might naturally assume, based on the stereotypical fears about Puig’s style of play, that Kemp and Carl Crawford have been playing DodgePuig for the past two months, Monday’s misplay was as unusual as it was harmful to the final score.

Kemp-PuigIn the immediate aftermath, there was considerable debate over who was at fault. Watching the play live and then numerous times on replay, I see two players both approaching the ball at fairly similar speeds — it was in the air long enough to be caught by either. (It’s not as if Kemp is at a standstill and Puig arrives like a freight train.)

Fundamentally, this is the center fielder’s ball if he wants it. So the only question in my mind is whether Puig called for it or not. If he did, then it’s his — if he doesn’t, then he needs to get out of Kemp’s way.  Puig didn’t give a demonstrative hand signal the way Kemp did, but whether Puig called for it verbally, I don’t know. The play might have been as simple as Puig calling for the ball and Kemp not hearing him, though Puig isn’t exactly volume-challenged.

Whatever went wrong, hopefully it will be addressed and corrected. It was an unfortunate play, and hopefully it’ll remain as unusual as it was.

So many runs, so little time: Division title in sight for high-scoring Dodgers

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By Jon Weisman

Is this what life is like as a Colorado Rockies fan?

The average score of the 10 games on the Dodgers’ last regular-season roadtrip of 2014 was 7-6.

Despite beginning their travels with a shutout loss at San Francisco, the Dodgers scored 75 runs in the 10 games, averaging an ungodly 8.3 runs per game over their past nine, culminating in today’s 8-5 victory at Chicago.

The Dodgers, who reduced their magic number for clinching the National League West to four, went 6-4 on the trip and ended up gaining ground over the 10 games on San Francisco, which trailed San Diego, 1-0 3-0 5-0, in the sixth inning today.

If the Giants can’t rally, the Dodgers could clinch a tie for the NL West title as soon as Monday.

Dodger pitching allowed 62 runs on the trip and struggled almost the entire past week. In today’s game, Jamey Wright and Carlos Frias combined to allow four runs in their five innings, before some stability was brought in by a largely marginalized source: Chris Perez retired all four batters he faced and was rewarded with his first victory of 2014. Perez has pitched seven innings in September and allowed no runs on two hits while walking four and striking out nine with a 0.00 ERA.

Paco Rodriguez followed by retiring both batters he faced to bridge the Dodgers to Pedro Baez (who allowed a solo home run) and Kenley Jansen, who allowed a walk and a double but then set down the Cubs’ No. 2-4 hitters.

But again, the Dodger bats carried the day. Matt Kemp went 4 for 5 with four RBI and his 15th home run since the All-Star Break — that’s one every four games. Yasiel Puig went 2 for 5 with four runs and managed to avoid breaking his ankle on an aborted slide into second base midgame.

Just another great Vin Scully call

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I could listen to this call again and again.

— Jon Weisman

Romper room: Dodgers are the answer men with 17-0 rout

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By Jon Weisman

Tonight’s combination of Augustus Gloop, Mr. Creosote, Charles Bronson and Ed Grimley is brought to you by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In a dish of revenge as cold and overflowing as a jammed frozen yogurt machine, the Dodgers avenged Friday’s 9-0 loss to the Giants with a record-shattering 17-0 victory over San Francisco.

The Dodgers scored the most runs ever by an opponent at San Francisco’s AT&T Park and shattered the record for the biggest shutout in the history of the Dodgers-Giants series — by either team. Los Angeles came within two of its franchise record for largest shutout victory, a 19-0 defeat of the Padres on June 28, 1969.

For the Dodgers, their biggest shutout ever of the Giants was 12-0 on April 19, 1940. For the Giants, it was 16-0 over the Dodgers on July 3, 1949. Tonight’s game also happened to come 40 years and one day after an 11-0 Dodger victory at Candlestick Park.

The last time San Francisco lost, 17-0, the winning points came on November 19, 1950 on a George Blanda field goal.

The Dodgers scored four runs apiece in the first and second innings to knock out Giants starter Tim Hudson before he recorded his fourth out, the shortest start of his career, an event eerily similar to Hyun-Jin Ryu’s the night before. In their first two trips through the lineup, the Dodgers were 11 for 16 with a walk, a sacrifice fly and four doubles — two by Matt Kemp, who had three hits and three RBI in the first three innings, while also throwing out Angel Pagan at the plate (mid-bubble!) in the first inning to stop the Giants’ most significant scoring threat.

And that’s where the difference from Friday was. As bad as the San Francisco rout was, the Dodgers nearly doubled it, like a sudden shift in a backgammon game.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 9.37.36 PMYasiel Puig, who ignited the Dodgers with the first hit of the game, stretching an apparent single into a leg double (pictured), had three hits and was hit by a pitch. Hanley Ramirez had three singles and a double. Juan Uribe had a single and a home run. Dee Gordon had two singles and his 60th stolen base of the season while becoming the first player in Los Angeles Dodger history to record seven at-bats in a nine-inning game.

And Zack Greinke was more than the beneficiary. In addition to six shutout innings on 84 pitches, Greinke walked, doubled off the top of the wall and hit his fourth career home run, his first as a Dodger.

Don’t expect Greinke (.204/.271/.352) to catch Madison Bumgarner (.242/.273/.419) in the Silver Slugger race, but he made up a chunk of ground tonight. Greinke is 5 for 10 with a walk and a .900 slugging percentage in his past five games.

Off the bench, Scott Van Slyke hit the Dodgers’ other home run, Alex Guerrero played left field and got his first Major League hit, and Roger Bernadina became the third Dodger to be hit by two pitches in his only two plate appearances of the game.

With 24 hits, the Dodgers were one away from the Los Angeles record for a nine-inning game. The Dodgers went 11 for 19 with runners in scoring position.

Oh — and not to be forgotten, Scott Elbert pitched a shutout inning in his first Major League game in 25 months. So very happy for him.

The More You Know …

The educational moment from tonight’s game is that while they don’t often come back from an in-game deficit, you can hardly do better after a defeat than the Dodgers. Tonight, the Dodgers improved their record to 43-21 after a loss.

It’s not as dramatic as coming back in a game, but it’s more meaningful.

… The More You Know

On switching outfielders

Los Angeles Dodgers vs San Diego Padres

For more photo highlights from Wednesday, visit LA Photog Blog.

By Jon Weisman

I remember thinking in 2008, when Andruw Jones was in an ugly slump, that the Dodgers had no choice but to stick with him, because they weren’t going to win anything if he didn’t right himself. And then, as it turned out, the Dodgers created another choice, named Manny Ramirez.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS V SAN DIEGO PADRESBut I also remember, in 2014, calls to bench Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp when they were struggling.

On June 4, a week after Crawford had gone on the disabled list, Kemp had a .291 on-base percentage and .398 slugging percentage. The cries for Joc Pederson were probably never louder. Since that time, Kemp has a .380 on-base percentage and .535 slugging percentage (a .915 OPS) while finding a home in right field.

It was even worse in Crawford’s case. On May 2, Crawford had a .212 on-base percentage and .259 slugging percentage. He then started 17 of the Dodgers’ next 23 games — playing nearly every day against righties — and had a .389 OBP while slugging .565.

Crawford went on the disabled list for six weeks, and when he came back, the stats would indicate he was lost. On August 9, he was down to .268/.333 on the season — a .601 OPS. And people wondered aloud why Andre Ethier wasn’t playing.

But Don Mattingly saw good at-bats amid those struggles, and committed to Crawford. The reward: the hottest hitter in the majors, a .478 OBP and .614 slugging percentage, including an astonishing 9-for-12 with a walk, four doubles (three in Wednesday’s 4-0 victory) and home run in this week’s Padres series. On the just-concluded homestand, Crawford had a .533 OBP and slugged .897.

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People will criticize Mattingly for this and that, but rarely does he get credit for what turned out to be something quite savvy — recognizing that it was too soon to forsake Crawford and Kemp, even when others would have.

It’s hard to watch someone who has been as important to the Dodgers over the past decade as Andre Ethier languish on the bench. It’s natural to wonder what would happen if he received the everyday opportunities that Crawford, Kemp and Yasiel Puig have since the All-Star Break, and whether that would have made a difference in a season that has stuck him with a sub-.700 OPS. (As it happens, Ethier is 9 for 25 with a .448 on-base percentage off the bench since August 17, evidence that he has made the best of a reserve role and/or an argument that he should play more.)

I would only say that it’s also natural to wonder what Puig is capable of when he comes out of his own long slump, and based on what happened with Crawford and Kemp, it would be odd to assume he won’t. In other words, unless you think 2014 Puig is 2008 Jones, it might be worth waiting this one out.

A rare start at second base against a righty for Justin Turner

Los Angeles Dodgers vs San Diego Padres

For more photo highlights from Tuesday, visit LA Photog Blog.

Padres at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Yasiel Puig, CF
Justin Turner, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Dan haren, P

By Jon Weisman

Since Australia in March, Dee Gordon has been as regular as they come against right-handed starting pitching in 2014, but the charms of hot-hitting Justin Turner have given Don Mattingly the opportunity to give the speedy second baseman to have an extra day of rest heading into Thursday’s off day.

Turner has a .437 on-base percentage and .517 slugging percentage in 229 plate appearances since May 11.

Gordon has been on a hot streak of his own in the past week, going 10 for 29 with a walk and two doubles for a .367 on-base percentage and .414 slugging percentage. For what it’s worth, Mattingly mentioned Gordon not having a strong history against Kennedy (4 for 21, including a double and a triple, with one walk and six strikeouts).

Some other quick hits (some courtesy of the Dodgers’ PR department):

  • Paco Rodriguez threw a bullpen session today at 100 percent and it went really well, according to Mattingly, who added that the key is how the lefty reliever feels the day after.
  • Over the past month, Carl Crawford is first in the big leagues in batting average (.405), fourth in on-base percentage (.453) and seventh in slugging percentage (.557).
  • Though it has taken him a month to do it because of how rarely the Dodgers have been facing lefties, Scott Van Slyke has quietly put together a 10-game hitting streak with a .985 OPS since August 8.
  • Matt Kemp has an even longer hitting streak going: 15 games. His career-long is 19.
  • Adrian Gonzalez is on pace to become the first Dodger to lead NL in sacrifice flies in back-to-back years since Gil Hodges (1954-55).

Gone Guys: Gonzalez, Dodgers blast their way to victory

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By Jon Weisman

For the first five innings, the Dodgers were being no-hit. Before the next two innings were over, Oliver Perez was throwing at Andre Ethier (one might have concluded) because the Dodgers were hitting too many home runs.

There were three homers in all, two of them three-run blasts in back-to-back innings by Adrian Gonzalez, who became the first Dodger since Eric Karros in 1993 to hit two trifecta round-trippers.  (Cody Ross, a Dodger opponent today, had a three-run home run and a grand slam for Los Angeles in 2006, in his final start with the team).

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Fortunes change, don’t ya know? It’s all about piling up more good than bad. And that is what the Dodgers have done in 2014.

Saturday, I interviewed Dodger general manager Ned Colletti for the print edition of Dodger Insider, and I asked him if there had been a defining moment for the 2014 Dodgers. He didn’t immediately see one, acknowledging at least so far that this year, the team was more methodical than dramatic. That lack of drama has come to be considered a strike against the Dodgers, as if the pennant race were a beauty contest rather than a measurement of which team has the most victories at the end of season.

Today, the Dodgers moved 19 games about .500, tied with Washington for the best in the National League.

But those insisting on an observable spark certainly have to like what they saw from the Dodgers this afternoon, when, after waiting until the sixth inning to gather kindling, they lit a fire. Dee Gordon broke up Trevor Cahill’s no-hitter with a one-out double, Hanley Ramirez walked, and Gonzalez absolutely smashed a ball over the fence in to dead center.

Though this won’t qualify as a late-inning clutch hit, it was a huge one, and comes a day after Gordon’s tiebreaking RBI single in the bottom of the eighth Saturday. Yes, Virginia, this team does come through.

An inning later, it was the same trio. Perez walked Gordon, then Ramirez reached base on an error by shortstop Cliff Pennington. Gonzalez hit his third home run of the past 21 hours and second homer of the year off a lefty, giving him his seventh 100-RBI season of his career and matching his 2013 total as a Dodger. And then for good measure, Matt Kemp hit his 19th of the year. (This article seems timely.)

Perez then smacked Ethier in the back (making him the Dodgers’ all-time leader in HBPs with 53), and when umpire Laz Diaz warned both benches, that didn’t sit well with Don Mattingly and Monday’s starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, both of whom were ejected. Thankfully, Kershaw isn’t pitching against Arizona again this year, which saves us the worry about him retaliating and getting thrown out himself.

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Since August 29, San Francisco has won six of its past eight games. If the Giants don’t win tonight in Detroit, they’ll have gained no ground on the Dodgers in that stretch.

The Dodgers’ top position player of the second half: Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez or Justin Turner

Los Angeles Dodgers vs Arizona Diamondbacks

For more photo highlights from Saturday, visit LA Photog Blog.

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, 2B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, RF
Andre Ethier, LF
Justin Turner, 3B
Yasiel Puig, CF
Drew Butera, C
Zack Greinke, P

By Jon Weisman

Clayton Kershaw is in a league of his own, but Matt Kemp’s second-half offensive surge made me wonder whether he’s the Dodgers’ most valuable player since the All-Star Break — at least among position players.

According to Fangraphs, Kemp has been the Dodgers’ top offensive player since the All-Star Break, though the site continues to downgrade his defense significantly. I struggle with the idea that enough action has come to Kemp in the outfield to have that much of an impact on his overall worth, but I do trust the stats more than my anecdotal observations.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs Arizona DiamondbacksIn any case, with the caveats of small sample size, moving to right field has helped Kemp (the following are full-season stats):

  • UZR/150 in center field: -33.4
  • UZR/150 in left field: -38.2
  • UZR/150 in right field: -15.4

Los Angeles Dodgers vs Arizona DiamondbacksFangraphs makes Adrian Gonzalez No. 1 in Wins Above Replacement in the second half for the Dodgers. Gonzalez ranks below-average defensively but only just so, and his second-half offense quietly just about matches up with Kemp’s:

  • Gonzalez: .391 OBP, .534 slugging, 156 wRC+
  • Kemp: .378 OBP, .574 slugging, 164 wRC+

WASHINGTON NATIONALS AT LOS ANGELES DODGERSBut here’s a twist for you. If you tweaked this discussion from the Dodgers’ most valuable position player of the second half  to the Dodgers’ best position player of the second half, the answer might well be Justin Turner.

Turner’s offense matches Kemp’s — .432 OBP (astonishing), .474 slugging, 163 wRC+ — and his defense surpasses both Kemp and Gonzalez. In fact, if Turner weren’t forced to play out of position at times, his defense for the 2014 season would be above average:

  • UZR/150 at third base (384 innings): 0.8
  • UZR/150 at second base (85 2/3 innings): 0.4
  • UZR/150 at shortstop (72 innings): -24.8
  • UZR/150 at first base (19 innings): -13.8

Not to say that Turner’s performance might not decline if he played every day like Gonzalez and Kemp (that’s Don Mattingly’s contention, by the way), but per unit of playing time, Turner has generated the highest WAR on the Dodgers in the second half.

  • Gonzalez: 1.7 WAR in 184 plate appearances
  • Kemp: 1.1 WAR in 185 plate appearances
  • Turner: 1.2 WAR in 111 plate apperances, pro-rated to 2.0 WAR in 184.5 plate appearances

Thanks to Turner and Juan Uribe, who is the Dodgers’ top defensive regular and fourth on the team in WAR in the second half, third base has led the way among the Dodgers’ non-pitchers in helping the team hold onto the lead in the National League West.

Nearly-an-iron man Matt Kemp gets rare rest day

WASHINGTON NATIONALS AT LOS ANGELES DODGERS

For more Tuesday photo highlights, visit LA Photog Blog.

Nationals at Dodgers, 12:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, 2B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Justin Turner, 3B
Joc Pederson, CF
Tim Federowicz, C
Carlos Frias, P

By Jon Weisman

Matt Kemp, who leads Dodger outfielders in games played despite not leading at any of the three positions, ends a streak of 40 consecutive games in the starting lineup today.

It’s getting harder to remember when there was active concern about Kemp’s fragility. During that 40-game run, Kemp has had a .380 on-base percentage and .580 slugging percentage.

He has actually played in 50 consecutive games and started 83 of the Dodgers’ past 86 games, since Carl Crawford went on the disabled list May 28, with an .842 OPS in that time.

And Dodger manager Don Mattingly indicated that he is counting on Kemp for the pennant drive.

“I think today for me is an energy day,” Mattingly said. “He kind of looked a little heavy-legged in Sunday’s day game. He’s been going hard for us, and honestly hasn’t played this many games in a couple of years. I feel like this is kind of his last chance to get a breather.”

Kemp has played 128 games this season, after playing 106 and 73 the previous two seasons.

* * *

Making his debut as a Major-League starter today, Carlos Frias isn’t on a specific pitch limit, but Mattingly said that the team’s goal is to get five innings from the 24-year-old righty and then evaluate from there.

Mattingly said he doesn’t manage differently or make changes more aggressively with the post-September 1 expanded bullpen, and that the extra men mainly function as a way to avoid using primary relievers in a blowout.

At the same time, it’s not clear that Pedro Baez qualifies as an “extra” anymore, given his baptism to date (1.84 ERA in 14 2/3 innings), and Yimi Garcia pitched two shutout innings Monday in a game the Dodgers nearly tied in the ninth.

Mattingly also said that Paco Rodriguez had an encouraging bullpen session Tuesday and might be close to a simulated game, and that signs are more encouraging that he’s closer to a return. However, though Josh Beckett played catch Tuesday, signs for his return were no more encouraging than they have been.

Tim Federowicz makes his first start for the Dodgers since June 12, and Mattingly confirmed that Federowicz’s familiarity catching Frias in Albuquerque this summer played a role in the decision.

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