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Kemp takes step in right direction

Kemp takes step in right direction

SAN FRANCISCO -- Matt Kemp has emerged from the managerial doghouse and, ahead of schedule, has returned to center field.

Better still for the Los Angeles Dodgers, his play on Tuesday night indicated that he can once again turn his immense potential into production.

Kemp was out of the starting lineup on Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants for the third straight game. In manager Joe Torre's pregame session with the media, this was, understandably, Topic A. The reportorial search was on for the reason behind the center fielder's benching, although the fact that Kemp was hitting .196 in June seemed like a plausible cause. Torre did say that he planned on putting Kemp back in the lineup Wednesday for the final game of the three-game series.

In the face of a series of questions on this topic, Torre politely declined to provide a single overwhelming reason for the repeat benching of Kemp. "I'm just saying that I write the lineup," the manager said. "On the record, off the record, whatever you choose."

However, MLB.com's Ken Gurnick reported Tuesday night that the origin of the benching was Kemp blowing up at member of the coaching staff in the dugout on Saturday in what had otherwise been a normal discussion of a game situation. One tipoff that something more than a slump was at work came after Torre said that he and Kemp had a meeting in his office Tuesday. Kemp initiated the meeting, Torre said. When Torre was asked if Kemp would have been back in the lineup Wednesday had he not come in for the meeting, Torre said:

"I don't know that."

The idea was that Kemp had something for which to apologize or at least atone, hence the need for a meeting. "I thought the talk went well," Torre said. The manager's satisfaction with both the substance and the tone of the meeting gave him an opening to put Kemp back in the lineup.

Kemp asked later Tuesday night about the report of a blowup with a coach said: "It's just a report." And that's not a denial.

In any case, fate intervened on behalf of Kemp's appearance on the playing field at AT&T Park on Tuesday night. Manny Ramirez suffered a hamstring strain while running the bases in the first inning. Kemp immediately entered the game as a pinch-runner, and then was placed in center field defensively, while his replacement in center, Reed Johnson, went to left.

Kemp, to his credit, shook off the benching and made immediate contributions. He went 2-for-4 at the plate, but was even more impressive in the field, making two splendid running catches. The latter, off a drive into the gap in left-center by Andres Torres in the eighth inning, featured Kemp covering as much ground as humanly possible, before making this catch. In a 4-2 Dodgers victory, these catches were an invaluable part of the outcome.

"He's capable," Torre said. "He won a Gold Glove. Obviously, that's nothing strange to him."

"Just trying to go out there and do the best I can," Kemp said. "Tracked down a couple of balls tonight. If it hits my glove, I'm supposed to catch it."

Torre said that Kemp looked "quieter" at the plate, a good sign. "I think he's been frustrated," the manager said. "It's a tough game to play. He's a young man and you don't get a chance to regroup.

"He's important for us. He's hitting in the middle of our lineup. Hopefully, he can get on a roll."

Kemp had the kind of season in 2009 that won for him both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award and positioned him among baseball's elite outfielders. This year has not been a suitable encore, particularly with the June slump. But Kemp told reporters Tuesday that his approach had not changed.

"I did everything I needed to do to have as good a season as I did last year," Kemp said. "I've still got a whole half-season to turn this thing around and for us to do all the great things we did last year."

Despite his Gold Glove status, Kemp is still, at 25, a young player. There will be bumps in the road, whether those bumps come in the form of a monthlong slump, or a loss of composure leading to a blowout with a coach.

The important thing here, just as in the rest of the game, is bouncing back quickly and effectively. Based on Kemp's performance Tuesday night, after a three-game exile from the starting lineup, he's capable of getting back on track in a hurry. The next move would be to keep his season moving in a positive direction.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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