MLB: Torre expects Matt Kemp to thrive in No. 2 hole
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Matt Kemp had a team-leading 139 strikeouts in 2009 but that won’t deter manager Joe Torre from using his budding star in the second spot in the Dodgers’ lineup this season.
In the first game of the spring Friday, Kemp was batting second behind leadoff man Rafael Furcal and ahead of sluggers Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez.
Not the prototypical No. 2 hitter that can work counts and is adept at situational hitting, Torre thinks Kemp could thrive in the role, anyway.
“We don’t want Matt Kemp to give himself up,” Torre said. “But I think that second spot has changed its personality a lot. Years ago when you had Pee Wee Reese hitting second, his job was to move the runner and stuff. Now you want to move the runner all the way around to score.”
Kemp already knows how to drive in runs, having pushed across 101 last season, 25 more than his first full season in the big leagues in 2008. That number could take a hit, though, if Kemp is batting in a spot not normally reserved for RBI men.
Kemp had 55 at-bats in the No. 2 spot last season, but had more batting fourth (111), fifth (70), sixth (100), seventh (174) and eighth (76). He had only five RBI out of the second spot last season.
“Man, I hit one through nine since I’ve been in the big leagues and I can hit anywhere,” Kemp said. “If that’s where Joe wants me to hit, that’s where I’m going to hit. I’ll just do the best I can to get on base for the big boys.”
In his first at-bat of the spring, Kemp legged out an infield single off White Sox ace Mark Buehrle and later added a walk.
“Kemp had some remarkable at-bats for this being his first game,” Torre said.
The winner of the Silver Slugger Award for National League center fielders, Kemp finished 10th in National League MVP voting. And as Torre sees it, there have been some pretty decent players that have batted second.
“(Don) Mattingley hit two, Alex Rodriguez hit two,” Torre said. “Matt, I think a big part of it in my thinking is the fact that he’s going to be hitting in front of some thunder, so he’ll get some pitches to hit. He can do some damage with pitches to hit. He’s been much more disciplined than I thought he would be last year than he was the year before. He’s only going to get better.”
Kemp is just 25 but the Dodgers have been able to get some lineup versatility out of him by keeping things simple. Whether he bats eighth in front of the pitcher or leads off games, the Dodgers don’t ask Kemp to change his approach to cater to the situation.
“Batting second, I know (Furcal) is going to get on and cause havoc on the bases,” Kemp said. “He’s going to run and my job is to drive him in or get on base and let (Ethier and Ramirez) drive me in.”