Dodgers to start 2nd half with Kemp, Ethier back
Matt Kemp is on his way back to the starting lineup, and his presence couldn't come at the better time for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
They open the second half of the season on Friday at home against San Diego clinging to a half-game lead over San Francisco in the NL West. The Dodgers stumbled into the All-Star break losing 15 of 20 games, including three in a row, with Kemp and Andre Ethier on the disabled list.
They're expected to be activated on Friday, according to manager Don Mattingly. Kemp would play his first game since May 30 after being sidelined by a strained left hamstring, while Ethier has been rehabbing his strained oblique in the minors.
''There's no panic going on,'' Mattingly said. ''There are periods of time you look bad. We've just lost a little bit of the confidence.''
Kemp participated in the Home Run Derby during the All-Star break, although he hasn't hit one for the Dodgers since April 30. Still, his 12 homers lead the team and Ethier is second with 10. Shortstop Dee Gordon is on the DL, leaving the team without their leadoff hitter.
The Dodgers opened the season in bankruptcy before getting new ownership that included Magic Johnson. They took advantage of a weak early schedule to build a 7 1/2-game lead by late May before most of it evaporated in June. The team was hard hit by injuries that decimated much of the starting lineup and some of the pitching staff.
''I look at it like we put a lot of money in the bank early and we've had to spend a lot to keep paying the bills,'' Mattingly said. ''We haven't used the credit cards yet.''
The Dodgers will be looking to avoid a repeat of last season after the break. That's when they fell 14 1/2 games out of first in the NL West, then gradually dug themselves out of last place before missing the playoffs.
The new owners spent in the first half, giving Ethier an $85 million, five-year deal through 2017, and Cuban defector Yasiel Puig a seven-year deal worth $42 million. More deals are likely by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Clayton Kershaw did his part in recruiting at the All-Star game with some words to impending free agent Cole Hamels of the Phillies.
Puig, a 21-year-old outfielder, worked out at the Dodgers' spring complex in Glendale, Ariz., on Thursday. He batted .330 with 17 home runs, 47 RBIs and 78 runs scored in 327 at-bats with Cienfuegos Elefantes last season. But don't look for him at Dodger Stadium any time soon. He will begin his U.S. career in the Arizona Rookie League.
The Dodgers' pitching has held up well despite the injuries. Starter Ted Lilly is hurt and Chad Billingsley struggled through a poor first half. But Chris Capuano put up solid numbers and journeyman Aaron Harang has held his own. Kenley Jansen replaced Javy Guerra as closer, while Ronald Belisario has proven effective in his setup role.
Catcher A.J. Ellis has avoided the injury bug and been productive. But losing Kemp and Ethier only highlighted the Dodgers' offensive struggles, with first baseman James Loney and third baseman Juan Uribe yet to break out. Loney had a big second-half last season, but it remains to be seen if he can duplicate that effort this year.
Mattingly kept his team playing hard late last season when they had nothing to play for, and he's confident in them again.
''We're going to be a good team,'' he said.