LOS ANGELES – Ned Colletti was traveling Friday.
"For the draft," he said. "I'd tell you where I am, but then everybody would know who I'm looking at."
At the end of an edgy week, the Los Angeles Dodgers general manager would not divulge his location, but would reveal where he was coming from.
"We have to sharpen the focus going forward," he said. "And we have to do it pitch to pitch, out to out, inning to inning and game to game. We have to shut off all the noise and concentrate on what we do. We're all professionals. This is what we do for a living."
No names this time. No agents. No tender psyches damaged.
Everybody feel better?
The Dodgers won a baseball game, finally. He struck out three times. His timing has been better.
At the end of an edgy week when his agent handled most of the talking, the Dodgers center fielder left the clubhouse with a smile and seemingly little on his mind.
"I'm straight," Kemp said. "I'm cool. Just doing what I do."
The breeze that swept through Dodger Stadium for the past couple nights carried an unseasonable chill. Icy, even, all things considered.
It straightened the flags in center field and made for circuitous routes when the baseball was in the air, and by the end of another day there was hardly a Dodger who hadn't had his cap blown a little askew. It's a grown man's game, you know.
Nearing the season's fifth week, only the Baltimore Orioles had lost more games than the Dodgers. Over 10 days, they'd lost twice in Cincinnati, twice in Washington, three times in New York and the night before to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
As the Dodgers were finishing that April testament to championship baseball, with their pitching thinning by the hour (Rule 5 draftee Carlos Monasterios(notes) gets his first start above Double-A on Saturday) and their lineup short its cleanup (Manny Ramirez(notes)) and leadoff (Rafael Furcal(notes)) hitters, Colletti, the man in charge, had gone just slightly El Nino on his boys.
He had been asked about Kemp. He did not duck the question. He wanted more from his center fielder.
Maybe Kemp was blindsided, a little hurt. But, he'd surely see the strands of truth in Colletti's observation that parts of his game had gone ratty. Eventually, he'll get over the implication that his work ethic is operating in inverse proportion to his growing paycheck. Baseball amounts to little more than eight months of accountability, followed by four months of living with those eight months.
Kemp will be fine. He can be great, if he chooses. At 25, it's as good a time as any to decide.
"We talked," Joe Torre said. "Matt, he doesn't say much to begin with. I just relayed to him stuff about the game. It's going to happen from time to time. I talked to him about New York. Stuff goes on. It disappears. I asked him not to get – I don't want to say caught up in it – but not to get distracted by it."
Torre has calmed his share of player-management dust-ups. The conversation he had with Kemp, Torre said, he'd practiced years ago during conversations with Derek Jeter(notes), Bernie Williams(notes), pick a guy in the Steinbrenner-ian reign.
"The kid's a tough kid," he said of Kemp.
How easy if this were only about him.
An edgy week merely came at the end of a dreary month, which followed a positively four-alarm offseason. The Dodgers skimped, traded on a couple runner-up finishes in the National League and talked around appearances their owner was spending more on divorce lawyers than starting pitching, and as a result are defending their NL West title with Charlie Haeger(notes) every five days and little depth anywhere.
Their boldest attempt to upgrade – engaging in extensive negotiations with the Toronto Blue Jays to acquire Roy Halladay(notes) before the Philadelphia Phillies did – ran aground on two fronts. First, Halladay, who held veto power over any trade, preferred Philadelphia over anything on the West Coast. Second, the Dodgers' most attractive commodities – Ivan DeJesus Jr., Chris Withrow, Dee Gordon, Ethan Martin – were too far from the big leagues to provide immediate return. Then, by the time the Dodgers turned their attention to Cliff Lee(notes), he was already in Seattle.
So here they are, not playing well, pitching near the bottom of the National League, getting ragged by their GM, waiting on Manny, Furcal, Vicente Padilla(notes) and anyone else who wants to jump back in. The frustration that showed up on the schedule this week may have found Matt Kemp, but first it had to trickle down from the owner who wouldn't pay to reload, through the GM who had to make do, and into a clubhouse that's starting to wonder if the Dodgers will start acting like a large-market team anytime soon.
There are pitchers out there. John Smoltz(notes) seems likely to pitch again. Pedro Martinez(notes) almost certainly will. Braden Looper(notes) and Jarrod Washburn(notes) are home. Any of them would take a month to get back on a mound, pitching like they could help, assuming they can. Any of them would be a risk, and would cost millions simply to sort through.
But, really, do the Dodgers have a choice? Can they wait until July? Can they pay to play?
Depends which way the wind blows.
"The guys in here have figured out it's probably not going to change," one player said. "We are who we are. We deal with it."