Down 2-1 in the top of the seventh, Matt Kemp stepped to the plate with a runner in scoring position during his minor league rehab assignment with the Rancho Cucamongas. The game would inevitably be tied; at least so it seemed.
Instead, the Inland Empires’ manager elected to intentionally walk Kemp, leading to an inning-ending double play.
“Have you ever seen a rehab guy getting intentionally walked?” Kemp asked Bill Shaikin of the LA Times after the game.
But I haven’t seen many participate in the home run derby either.
Kemp has been nursing a hamstring injury since May 30, sitting out 51 of the Dodgers’ previous 53 games. In that time, Los Angeles has seen its lead in the NL West diminish to just half a game.
Kemp, who led the MLB with 39 home runs last year, was elected captain of the National League for the derby. The competition is set to take place Monday at 8 p.m. (EST) on ESPN.
Former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was in a similar situation back in 1999, except he appeared to be at the later stages of his rehab as compared to Kemp’s three rehab assignments.
Garciaparra chose to participate in the derby despite missing time with a tweaked hamstring. Tom Hoffarth recently asked Garciaparra for his opinion on Kemp's scenario:
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I don't know how far along Matt Kemp is or how he's feeling, but if that's the case...I think he'll be fine at least participating in the home run derby.
I think what he has going for him is he's done it before…At least he kind of knows what it's all about and the toll it takes on your body.
Kemp did compete in the event last year, but he hardly knows of the physical toll the derby can take on its participants. He took just 12 swings, homering twice and finishing dead last.
What if Kemp finds his groove in Kansas City? What if he pulls a Josh Hamilton and homers 35 times and hits in all three rounds? Now we aren’t just talking about 12-15 swings, or as the Dodgers’ head trainer called it, “glorified BP.”
Kemp says he’s going out there to “put on a show for the fans,” but how about rescheduling that performance for when it actually matters? What do you think Dodgers’ fans value more, a home run derby trophy or a National League pennant?
With two other contenders in their division, the Dodgers may not clinch a playoff berth until the final week of the season. That means they will need Kemp’s A-game for every one of the remaining 75 games of the season.
Currently, Los Angeles ranks 27th in runs scored and 28th in slugging percentage, two figures that Kemp can immediately improve once he is back in the lineup.
The Dodgers need Kemp’s bat, but more importantly, they need their slugger to be at 100 percent.
One hundred percent. That doesn’t mean 75. It doesn’t mean 95. It means Kemp is ready to go the distance and carry this team again. It means sacrificing the glory of the home run derby for the good of the ball club.
Kemp needs to seriously consider the message he is sending to his fans and teammates. He is completely ignoring the long haul; not thinking for a minute how he might feel if his team lasts to the dog days of October.
While the MLB season is 162 games, if the Dodgers want to win a title, they need to equip themselves to play more like 180 games.
Three days ago, Kemp told Shaikin:
It's not sore when I wake up in the morning," Kemp said. "It feels just like a regular old leg, thank God.
But just because it feels back to normal doesn’t mean you can’t aggravate it again. Playing it safe is the only long-term solution.
People may say that the derby will be like every other hitting drill, but it’s not. The adrenaline will get to Kemp. He will want to win. He will swing as hard as he can as many times as he can, and that’s not even close to rehabilitating an injury.
As opposed to taking a day off later in the season, Kemp needs to reconsider taking the night off tonight.