Kemp was out of the starting lineup for the fifth straight game when the Dodgers played the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night. According to manager Don Mattingly, the team is waiting for Kemp to get comfortable taking fly balls in left field before putting him back on the field. In those five days, Kemp's contributions have been confined to one pinch-hit appearance.
Mattingly told Kemp he was no longer the team's center fielder after one particularly rough defensive night against the New York Mets at Citi Field on Thursday, according to sources. Four extra-base hits went over his head, contributing to all four Mets runs. Kemp also dropped a ball he picked up on the warning track to allow a run to score.
Kemp, an MVP runner-up in 2011, was openly grumbling about losing his starting job in the clubhouse the following day, according to the sources, making for a tense situation for some players.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he isn't concerned with the potential for clubhouse discord now that the former superstar is no longer playing every day. He said he and Mattingly were on the same page, that the Dodgers needed to do something to fix the outfield defense.
"We have a strong room," Colletti said. "I only care about one thing: winning. The Dodgers supersede everything. That's the way I think, and I think that's the way we should all be thinking about this."
Kemp did early work in left field Tuesday, but it's not clear how effective he will be in a reserve role, something he has never done. His agent, Dave Stewart, doesn't sound hopeful it will suit his client's skill set.
"In my experience as a player, that role was always filled by a veteran type of a guy. When I was coming up, it was a Manny Mota kind of guy, a special type of player who can handle that role," Stewart said. "Guys like Matt, who is 29, a former All-Star and almost an MVP, were never in a role like that.
"All you can expect is for him to give 100 percent of what he's got, because that's the kind of player he is. As for the results, in some cases, it may look pitiful, because that's not an easy role to adjust to."
Stewart said he spoke with Colletti shortly after Kemp was benched and was told Kemp will get opportunities to play some center field, so he's stumped as to why Kemp hasn't played in the field since that game in New York.
One potential solution to the situation is to trade Kemp, but that will prove complicated, given the $107 million the Dodgers owe Kemp between the end of this season and 2019, and given his recent injury history. Kemp, batting .264 with five home runs, played just 73 games last year and underwent ankle surgery in October. Stewart said Colletti hasn't told him whether he will look to trade Kemp or one of the three other outfielders.
"But that would not be something the organization would have to talk to me about, because I'm an outsider. I'm not a part of the organization," Stewart said.
Kemp has not complained publicly about his lack of playing time and admitted after the game in New York that he needed to improve his defense. When he was asked earlier this week about the last time he played left field, he said, "Aren't you guys supposed to know that? It was 2006. Google it. A long time ago. It's an outfield spot. Like I said, as long as I'm out there playing, it doesn't matter. I still want to play."
Mattingly became testy when reporters continued to ask about Kemp's role before Tuesday's game. The team has been intent on fixing its defensive shortcomings for weeks, particularly after seeing its starting rotation round into form. On Sunday and Monday, Josh Beckett and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the team's Nos. 3 and 4 starters, combined for 17 consecutive hitless innings. Beckett pitched the majors' first no-hitter of 2014 on Sunday in Philadelphia.
"We're going to use him," Mattingly said. "We're going to use Carl [Crawford], we're going to use Andre [Ethier]. I'm going to use Yasiel [Puig], I'm going to use Van Slyke, I'm going to use [Chone] Figgins, I'm going to use Justin [Turner]. I'm going to use [Erisbel] Arruebarrena, if that's how you say it. I'm going to use Hanley [Ramirez]. I'm going to use everyone. This is our team."