LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kemp's basestealing ineptitude, which you may have read about in this space three weeks ago when he was a pathetic 10 for 20, has made a dramatic reversal in recent days. The Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder went into Saturday's game against the Chicago Cubs having been successful on five consecutive attempts, all in the first five games of the team's current homestand.
Before that, Kemp went from June 20 through July 4 without so much as trying to steal a base, something that might have resulted from timidity given his less-than-stellar success rate to that point. Kemp also struggled at the plate for much of June, which might have added to an overall confidence void that he now seems to have put behind him after also hitting four homers and driving in 10 runs over his past nine games.
"He looks more relaxed to me," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "A lot of times with a player who knows he's fast, he feels like he should steal bases more so than, 'I can steal a base right here.' He felt like he was letting everybody down. And you know Matt Kemp, he doesn't show anything. He says everything is fine, but you know everything can't be fine."
Kemp tried to steal for the first time in 16 days on Monday night against Florida, swiping second base with one out and Andre Ethier on third in the third inning, a play that led directly to a Dodgers run. Marlins catcher Ronny Paulino threw the ball into center field, not far enough for Kemp to take third but far enough for Ethier to come home easily.
On Wednesday, a night when the Dodgers stole five bases overall and three with Marlins starter Chris Volstad on the mound, Kemp stole second and third back to back in the first inning. He stole second off Josh Johnson and Paulino with two outs in the eighth inning on Wednesday night. And finally, on Friday night against the Cubs, Kemp stole third with two outs, Russell Martin at the plate and the Dodgers leading 6-2.
While Kemp appeared to risk violating the age-old baseball rule of never making the final out of an inning at third base with that last one, Torre said that wasn't necessarily true.
"That was fine," Torre said. "Most of the time, they're not going to cover [third] because they don't want to open up a hole, so it's not really a risk when you do that."
Torre rested several regulars on Saturday, including Martin after the catcher hit a critical three-run homer in Friday night's win over the Cubs. Torre said Martin was frustrated after that game, largely because of a run-scoring wild pitch by Justin Miller in the eighth inning that Martin felt he should have blocked but failed to get in front of.
"He is getting plenty of practice [at blocking balls in the dirt], that's for sure," Torre said. "Even though we're going up against the break, he is struggling, so I gave him a day. He is so athletic, and he knows he can block those balls. But mechanically, he sometimes gets himself locked in [to his crouch] to where he can't move quickly enough to block it. The last thing Russell is is lazy."
Sherrill's job secure
With reliever George Sherrill having failed again on Friday night, giving up an eighth-inning, first-pitch double to the one batter he was brought in to face in the eighth inning in Cubs rookie Tyler Colvin, Torre said the possibility of Sherrill going to the minor leagues to work on his mechanics -- something Sherrill would have to agree to do because he is a veteran with six years of service time -- hasn't been discussed.
Sherrill, an All-Star closer for the Baltimore Orioles just a year ago, has a 7.32 ERA in 34 appearances this season.
"I just think it was a bad choice [to Colvin]," Torre said. "He threw a fastball to try to get ahead, and he mislocated it down the middle. He has a good breaking ball. I don't care how long you have been around, it's still a matter of confidence when you play this game or do anything in life, really. He isn't going to quit. We'll just look for an opportunity to get him in there. I'm not about to give up on him, that's for sure."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com