Kent ready to bounce back
Infielder looking to put injuries, subpar 2006 behind him
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Jeff Kent is so serious about rebounding from last year's injury-plagued season that he said he'd rather be in Spring Training than racing motorcycles.
Last year, frustrated by a wrist that had just been surgically repaired, Kent was evasive about 2006 being his final season when training camp opened. Although he signed an extension through 2007 with a 2008 option before camp broke, he went on to have his worst season in a dozen years.
He was disabled twice with what he called a "fluke" hand injury in May, then an oblique strain in July, and he tried to play with each injury. He hit 14 homers with 68 RBIs and appeared in only 115 games.
But when he rolled into the Dodgertown clubhouse for Wednesday's first full-squad workout, Kent, who turns 39 next month, was ready for the questions about retirement. He dropped hints, but was still non-committal.
"Last year I talked about it a lot, and this year I won't," said the 15-year veteran. "Maybe that's a tell-tale sign it might be [my last season]. Come December, unlike any other year, I wanted to play baseball. Maybe because I missed so many games for the first time in my career. Maybe because we've got a really good team this year, when you look at what Ned [Colletti, general manager] has done.
"I'm real excited about what could be. There are just a lot of great unknowns, and I'm excited about what they are. I'd rather be here than racing motorcycles right now, that's saying a lot."
Last spring, Kent not only was coming off wrist surgery, but also a winter of observing a tumultuous front office after a 91-loss season. He met with ownership shortly after the 2005 season to gauge whether it was committed to winning. A week later, general manager Paul DePodesta was dismissed and was replaced by Colletti, who was a high-ranking official with the Giants when Kent played there. Kent said he never tried to tell the club who should go and who should join, only that changes needed to be made.
Kent then watched Colletti furiously reshape the roster, which presumably helped convince Kent that the commitment was real.
Kent conceded that he arrived in Florida last spring frustrated over his health, having undergone a January operation to free up scar tissue. But doctors also discovered a partially torn ligament that needed repair and additional healing time. Kent was unable to throw or swing a bat until several weeks into camp, and he never really caught up.
He sprained his hand on May 28 in Washington, blaming a lack of pine tar. On July 3 he strained an oblique muscle for the first time in his career, hampering his swing, his ability to turn the double-play and his range in the field.
He hit .355 over the final six weeks of the season and went a staggering 8-for-13 with a homer in the Division Series loss to the Mets, finally appearing to be healthy and leaving the club cautiously optimistic that he still has some good baseball left. He is expected to bat clean-up again, with veteran Luis Gonzalez added in the offseason to bat fifth and protect Kent.
"I'm not going to be Superman," Kent said. "But with the DL time and the missed games, I'm looking to make good on those things."
To address the oblique, Kent had Dodgers strength coach Doug Jarrow fly in to Austin, Texas, to tutor a personal trainer on how to oversee a rehab program aimed at strengthening the oblique.
"Contrary to public belief, I do lift weights all the time, but this time we targeted new workouts on different body parts because of the oblique injury," Kent said. "It wasn't that it was more, it was just modified."
When he wasn't working on his body, Kent was overseeing his growing motorcycle dealerships and is in the final phase of construction of a 50,000 square-foot Yamaha superstore that will be the largest in the country. His I-35 North Honda dealership boasts the title of the largest Honda powerhouse dealer in South Texas.
On the field, Kent boasts the title of most prolific home run hitter for a second baseman (319), ahead of Ryne Sandberg, Joe Morgan and Rogers Hornsby. A former MVP, he also has the most 100-RBI seasons as a second baseman, all part of a resume that gives him a good shot at a future Hall of Fame election.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.