Kemp moving better; Padres confident defense will improve
PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) Matt Kemp not only hit 39 home runs and stole 40 bases in 2011 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he won his second Gold Glove as a center fielder.
In 2015, his first season in San Diego, he may have been the worst defensive right fielder in the major leagues.
Arthritic hips, ankle problems and shoulder issues have his mobility. But the 31-year-old insists his ankle is feeling better, and he showed up to spring training early to work on his defense.
''The past two or three years I've had a couple major surgeries,'' Kemp said Tuesday. ''Bouncing back from that is tough, but as years go on it gets better and better. Mobility gets better in the ankle. The shoulder is good. I've just got to keep going and keep grinding it out.''
Kemp was one of the many high-profile acquisitions made by Padres general manager A.J. Preller after the 2014 season. Many of those players are gone, and most people think the Padres will not contend this year.
''Things didn't quite work out the way we wanted them to as a team last year,'' Kemp said. ''We started off with confidence, and then we kind of faded off toward the middle and the end. I think we need to be a little more consistent this year.''
The two-time All-Star got off to a poor start at the plate last year and finished with 23 homers and 100 RBIs. Against Colorado on Aug. 14, he became the first Padres player to hit for the cycle.
But his eight errors were tied for the most among right fielders and FanGraphs calculated his defensive runs saved at minus-15, the worst of any right fielder. His ultimate zone rating, which measures range and other aspects compared to an average player, was also the poorest among right fielders.
''We think we can do some things from a positioning standpoint to put him in a much better position to succeed,'' rookie manager Andy Green said. ''That will be a point of emphasis. Also, we've already started to identify how his breaks can be improved, how his mobility back to right center can be improved.''
Green was impressed to see Kemp show up to camp a week early. On his first day, he was working on his breaks to the ball with coach Tarrik Brock.
''I think he's moving around well right now,'' Green said.
Kemp still has a solid arm -- he had 10 assists last season -- and Green wants to keep him in right in spacious Petco Park. But another season of defensive miscues could ramp up talk that Kemp may be a better fit in the AL as a designated hitter.
''Hopefully, this year I'm better as a player,'' Kemp said, ''and we're better as a team.''
NOTES: LHP Robbie Erlin starts Wednesday's exhibition opener against Seattle. . RHP Philip Humber starts Thursday and RHP Colin Rea on Friday. . Green said closer Fernando Rodney (hamstring) ''looks like his old self'' after a second bullpen session since returning.