Kemp's two-homer game might open floodgates
Dodgers outfielder puts on power display, and more from Week 1 of the season
On Valentine's Day, most players were still on their way to Arizona or Florida for Spring Training. But because they were opening the season on March 22 in Australia, the Dodgers were already working out at Camelback Ranch.
On a back field, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez were taking batting practice against a coach.
Balls were flying over the left-field fence with dizzying regularity. But no one was hitting the ball over the fence more often than the one-legged Kemp, who -- because of the delicate surgery on his left ankle -- was still spending most of his time on an anti-gravity treadmill trainer, with his weight artificially supported.
Kemp was excused from almost all drills, but he could hit. He could really hit. And Kemp was excited, because he had regained his power after hitting only six homers in 73 games last year, when he still had not recovered from surgery to repair the damage in his left shoulder caused by a full-speed dash into the center-field wall at Coors Field in late August 2012.
Kemp wasn't yet sure about his ankle, but on that day, before most other players had reported for Spring Training, he said he felt better hitting the ball than any time last season.
"You see this upper body?" Kemp asked. "Massive arms? I'm swole again, bro. I'm a monster. Hey, I look good, man. Physically, I feel good, as far as where my body is and what I'm doing."
The Dodgers took it slow with Kemp during the spring, buying time to make sure that the ankle could hold up to his high-velocity style of play. He looked a lot like his old self against the Giants over the weekend, especially when he and Ramirez both homered twice on the Sunday night stage.
The Dodgers are a team full of questions, but it looks like they've found one big answer in getting Kemp back to full speed for the first time since he twice went on the disabled list with hamstring issues in late May 2012. He hit .355 with 12 home runs and a 1.163 OPS in 36 games that April and May, following an '11 campaign in which he was second to Ryan Braun in National League MVP Award voting.
"I can play baseball," Kemp said that day in February when he put on the dazzling display in BP.
Kemp is champing at the bit to be an everyday player again, not just one-fourth of Don Mattingly's outfield equation.
Also worth noting after Week 1 of 26:
• Chris Colabello, who turned down a guaranteed $1 million to play in Korea, continues to be one of baseball's best stories. Ron Gardenhire said that Colabello was the Twins' "best hitter" in Spring Training, and the 30-year-old was indispensable on the trip to Chicago and Cleveland. He enters Minnesota's home opener on Monday hitting .391 with one homer, four doubles and a league-leading 11 RBIs in five games.
Colabello, the International League MVP Award winner last year, when he posted 24 home runs and a 1.066 OPS in 89 games for Rochester, spent seven seasons in independent ball and credits former Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman, who was his manager with the Worcester (Mass.) Tornadoes.
"When I was in indy ball, I always thought, 'I'm playing to get to the big leagues, I'm not just playing to play,'" Colabello said.
• The Braves haven't exactly been killed by their pitching injuries. In fact, they limited the Brewers and Nationals to nine runs in their first six games, with 23-year-old ace Julio Teheran making two solid starts and another 23-year-old, Alex Wood, pitching even better. Aaron Harang and David Hale combined for 11 2/3 scoreless innings in their first starts. There's help on the way, too, as Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd have begun Minor League rehab assignments.
• It was a quiet weekend for Jose Abreu in Kansas City, but he made an impression in the season-opening series against the Twins. Gardenhire intentionally walked the White Sox slugger twice in the second game of the season. He did it to get to Adam Dunn, who had homered earlier in the game. And the second time, it was a righty-righty matchup, with Samuel Deduno against Abreu -- but Gardenhire still opted to walk Abreu to get to the left-handed-hitting Dunn. Maybe Deduno was confused. He threw a wild pitch that chased in the winning run.
• The top of the First-Year Player Draft isn't as clear as it once seemed. North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon -- everybody's favorite to be the first pick -- hasn't dominated. He lost at Clemson on Saturday, falling to 2-5 with a 2.44 ERA in eight starts. East Carolina's Jeff Hoffman got a tough win at Rice on Friday night, and is 2-3 with a 3.40 ERA. Vanderbilt's Tyler Bedee similarly won at Tennessee to go to 5-3 with a 2.81 ERA.
If these guys continue to look mortal, Louisville closer Nick Burdi and the intriguing group of high school players will be more in play. Houston-area pitcher Tyler Kolek heads that list, but hitters Alex Jackson, Michael Gettys and Jacob Gatewood are among those being watched closely by the Astros, Marlins, White Sox and Cubs, who have the first four picks.
• The Cubs' Carlos Villanueva won his first start, but he is stuck with a 1-2 record after taking the loss in 10- and 16-inning games in Pittsburgh. The Tigers' Drew Smyly, another fifth starter-turned-reliever, is fighting rust as manager Brad Ausmus leans on his other four starters. Smyly, who got a win in relief on Friday over the Orioles, may not get his first start until April 19. He looked great in Spring Training, and could be a No. 3 starter for a lot of teams.
• There are 115 players who have hit home runs, but none of those guys play for the Royals, who are homerless through five games. The Yankees are the only other team that has just one home run. No team has more than the Giants' 11, and naturally, they ranked 29th a year ago. Yes, these are small sample sizes.
• After hitting .330 with runners in scoring position last season, when they led the NL in runs, the Cardinals are hitting .143 RISP and averaging 2.8 runs. If there's any consolation for them, it's that there's 156 games left to play. Also, they have a lot of company in not getting big hits out of the gate, as 10 teams are hitting below .200 with runners in scoring position, including the Red Sox at .136 and Padres at .122. The best teams RISP to date: Rangers (.388), Giants (.370), Mariners (.333) and Marlins (.333).
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.