July 16, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO–This time, it seems for keeps. This time, rookies James Loney and Matt Kemp are getting more than a cursory look and are viewed as more than fill-ins until a high-priced veteran gets hot or comes off the disabled list.
And the Los Angeles Dodgers are better for it.
This time Loney and Kemp might get the same latitude catcher Russell Martin did a year ago, long before he became the No. 3 hitter, an All-Star and clubhouse leader, the same latitude given to outfielder Andre Ethier, who batted .306 as a rookie, the same latitude given to reliever Jonathan Broxton, who might be the best setup man in the National League in his second year.
"They are coming along nicely," Dodgers manager Grady Little said of Loney and Kemp. "They are playing with a purpose and they will continue to have their opportunities."
The Dodgers moved Nomar Garciaparra to third base about three weeks ago so they could hand Loney the job at first. He is batting .385 and already might be the best-fielding first baseman in the NL.
Kemp, who was five for six with two triples the last two days against the San Francisco Giants, is batting .380 while platooning with Ethier in right field. Juan Pierre isn't likely to be demoted to fourth outfielder to enable Kemp to slide into center field any time soon, not with Pierre in the first year of a five-year, $44 million contract, but the move might become inevitable. A trade is a possibility, with Ethier the most likely candidate to be moved.
Kemp has legitimate power, a precious commodity in the post-steroid era. He also runs and throws well. The only knock on him was a tendency to chase breaking balls outside the strike zone.
"He and James both are making better adjustments this time around," Little said. "Matt is more patient at the plate and is swinging at better pitches."
Patience was something both players displayed in abundance the last two years while waiting their turn in Triple-A Las Vegas. Both had short call-ups this season and last, only to return to the minors.
"Maybe now is our time," Loney said. "That's the way we'd like it."
• After starting the season with perhaps more depth in the starting rotation than any team in baseball, the Dodgers are seeking another arm because of injuries to Jason Schmidt, Randy Wolf and Hong-Chih Kuo. General manager Ned Colletti would have preferred to promote from within the organization, but top prospect Scott Elbert is out for the year with a shoulder injury and there are no quality starters at Triple-A.
The organization's best prospect, left-hander Clayton Kershaw, is only 19 and pitched in the Futures Game at the All-Star break. The Dodgers were tempted to rush Kershaw to the majors, but Colletti did some research and was reminded that Dontrelle Willis didn't make his debut until he was 21. Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners was 19 when he debuted in 2005, but there aren't many other examples since Dwight Gooden skyrocketed to stardom at 19 in 1984.
• Shortstop Omar Vizquel, 40, was a bright spot over the weekend for the Giants, who were swept by the Dodgers. He made several brilliant plays, including catching a ground ball with his bare hand to start a double play and twice making acrobatic catches of pop-ups in short left field while battling the daytime sun.
Vizquel's three-year contract expires at the end of the year and there is little doubt that playoff contenders will inquire about his availability before the trading deadline. The Giants will only trade him if they have decided not to re-sign him. If they believe he can perform at a high level for another year or two and make an offer, he'd probably take it because he has grown to love San Francisco.
As good as his glove has been, Vizquel has fallen off at the plate. He's batting .241 with a .590 OPS and manager Bruce Bochy has him hitting in the No. 8 hole.
• Winning only one World Series in 125 years is more ignominious than losing 10,000 ballgames. Both marks belong to the Philadelphia Phillies, who achieved the latter Sunday by giving up six home runs to the St. Louis Cardinals in a 10-2 loss that Phillies fans applauded.
Got to love fans who have booed Santa Claus, yet cheer a benchmark for futility.
• Another World Series championship to match the one in 1980 that stands as the only title in franchise history isn't going to happen this year for the Phillies. Yet they displayed some life by staving off loss No. 10,000 for four games and hitting well against the Cardinals. Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins and Aaron Rowand were 22 for 33 with 15 RBIs in the three games since the All-Star break.
Phillies closer Tom Gordon, out since May 2 because of right rotator cuff inflammation, should be activated any day, enhancing their chances of remaining above .500.
• Tony La Russa has again proved to be a master motivator. He held his St. Louis Cardinals' star, Albert Pujols, out of the All-Star game, and Pujols responded angrily.
Now Pujols is taking out his fury on opposing pitchers. He hit two home runs Sunday, giving him four in the three games since the All-Star Game.
… AND FLY
The arms supply never ends for the Detroit Tigers. Venezuelan right-hander Guillermo Moscoso of their Class-A affiliate in the New York-Penn League pitched a perfect game against the Batavia Muckdogs on Sunday. Moscoso, 23, is 3-0 and hasn't allowed a run in his last 21 innings.