PHILADELPHIA -- For the third straight game, veteran outfielder Matt Kemp was not in the starting lineup posted by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. Kemp is not hurt, per se, Mattingly stressed as much. But he's not the same player who hit .324 with 39 home runs and 123 RBIs in 2011 or compiled a .303, 23 and 69 line in 106 games in 2012.
More important, he's not the defensive player he was just two seasons ago -- at least not at this moment.
"Here's where we're going with Matt," Mattingly said on Sunday morning after he put Andre Ethier in center for a third straight game. "We're going to start working Matt a little bit in left field. We're going to continue to work him in center. We're just feeling like we're giving him time to really get healthy. Not that's he's not healthy, but [we want to] give him a chance to get all the way back."
Kemp, who had surgery on his left ankle last October, has been a step slow in center this year. It's something that came to a head in New York on Thursday night, when the Dodgers lost a tough 5-3 decision to the Mets in which Kemp's struggles led to several runs.
"I'm probably not getting as good a jump as I need to on some plays," Kemp said after that loss. "I have to keep working and practicing ... my defense."
For now, Ethier will be the main center fielder for the Dodgers, as Kemp gets acclimated to more time in left. Ethier, who according to Mattingly isn't a prototypical center fielder due to speed, can compensate for any speed issues with his routes to fly balls.
"You can just see the angles he takes to balls," Mattingly said. "They are always direct. You'd like a guy with another step, but the routes he runs make up that half step or step he's missing."
Mattingly isn't worried about an issue in the clubhouse. The 29-year old Kemp has been around long enough, in Mattingly's view, to understand that the approach is about the team. Kemp, who was unavailable before the game after Mattingly made the decision public, remains a key part of this team.
"I don't want to put him in a bad spot, in terms of not being out there," Mattingly said. "We want him to get some work in once we get back to L.A. It's really just a change in angle. We want to get him some work, so he's comfortable.
"I'm going to use Matt. He's going to be a big part of this club. We are going to need him, and I'm going to use him. His reaction is really not important in this. From a human standpoint, it's something you don't want to hear. But he's a professional, and we'll move forward."
Michael Radano is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.