With the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers complete, the club is looking forward to a bright future.
In the season opener, Matt Kemp showed the new ownership why he’ll likely be at the center of any plans.
Kemp and the Dodgers seek a second straight win when they continue their season-opening four-game series against the host San Diego Padres on Friday night.
Los Angeles players can will almost certainly experience more organizational stability now after an investment group including Magic Johnson bought the Dodgers late last month from Frank McCourt, whose divorce and legal proceedings had previously tied up the club’s money.
With Johnson looking on Thursday, Los Angeles opened the season with a 5-3 win over San Diego, with the only disappointment being that Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw departed after three innings with the flu.
The bullpen picked him up, however, and Kemp hit a two-run homer in the eighth. He finished with three RBIs.
Kemp, who placed second in NL MVP voting behind Ryan Braun while hitting .324 with an NL-leading 39 homers and 126 RBIs last season, said there was additional motivation playing in front of the former Los Angeles Lakers legend.
“It was kind of cool - right when I came back from hitting the home run, he stuck his head in the dugout and said, `Nice job, kid,”’ said Kemp, who signed a $160 million, eight-year contract extension last November. “I was like, `Hey, it’s Magic Johnson right there, man.’ It’s good to have him around and good to see him. That was a little motivation right there. I was pretty pumped up for that. It was a good day all around. Good W.”
While it was a good start for Kemp, Andre Ethier, who had a 30-game hitting streak early last season before being bothered by a knee injury late in the year, went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.
After losing 91 games last season, it wasn’t the start the Padres were looking for. They had three errors, Edinson Volquez walked in two runs and the offense, which ranked last in the NL in several categories in 2011, had five hits - two by Cameron Maybin, who homered in the eighth.
San Diego will try to get into the win column against Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley on Friday.
The right-hander, who has finished with double-digit win totals in each of the last five seasons, went 11-11 with a 4.21 ERA last year - 4.77 after the All-Star break.
Billingsley worked on his mechanics during the offseason with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. While the results in spring training were mixed - he went 0-1 with a 5.91 ERA - he thinks he’ll bounce back after his disappointing finish to 2011.
Manger Don Mattingly hopes so.
“He’s still young and he needs to keep improving, even if it’s just a little bit,” Mattingly told the Dodgers’ official website.
Billingsley has pitched well against the Padres, going 11-8 with a 2.79 ERA. The 11 wins are his most against any club.
San Diego will counter with Cory Luebke, who was 6-10 despite a stellar 3.29 ERA last season as a 26-year-old rookie.
The Padres signed the left-hander, a former first-round draft pick, to a four-year contract worth $12 million at the end of March.
“Cory’s been a little bit of a late bloomer,” general manager Josh Byrnes said. “He’s a guy who seems to be getting better and better. We feel like he has more weapons.”
Luebke is 1-2 with a 3.09 ERA in four appearances against the Dodgers, losing both of his starts against them last season.
Kemp is 3 for 8 with three doubles off Luebke.