By HAL McCOY
It was a group called The Crickets that sang a song with the lyrics, ‘I fought the law and the law won.’
Cincinnati Reds outfielder Matt Kemp has a slightly different version: ‘I fought the wall and the wall won.’
Kemp’s argument with the left field wall Sunday in San Diego’s Petco Park landed him on the injured list with a broken rib on his left side.
And let nobody say that Kemp is not a tough guy, or at least a stubborn one. It happened in the third inning with two runners on base and Wil Myers at the plate. Myers drove one toward the wall and Kemp got his glove on the baseball. But when his body slammed into the unforgiving barrier, the ball dislodged and two runs scored.
Kemp crumpled to the ground, which may have been when he fractured the rib because he hit the wall with his right side but cracked a rib on the left side.
“Yeah, the wall won,” he said. “And it is weird that I broke a rib on the opposite side. What hurts is that I was just starting to feel good at the plate.”
Kemp actually batted after his losing bout with the wall and took a called third strike. Manager David Bell could see that Kemp was in pain and removed him from the game at that point.
“We feel for Matt,” said Bell. “He did everything he could to make that play. But it is no wonder he had to come out of the game. He was in a lot of pain. He did everything he could to stay in there after just a great effort. It is part of the game, but that doesn’t make it any easier because he is a big part of our team. It is difficult to lose him for any period of time.”
Bell must be seeing things either through rose-colored glasses or sees something others don’t see.
So far Kemp has been a very small part with a struggling start at the plate. For him, it is a miserable start. Over 62 plate appearances he is batting .200 with a .213 on-base average and a .283 slugging percentage. He has one walk, 19 strikeouts, two doubles, one home run and five RBI.
The Reds certainly expected more from a guy they are paying $21,750,000 after acquriing him from the Los Angeles Dodgers, just as they expected more from Yasiel Puig.
Puig, acquired in the same deal that brought Kemp to the Reds, has eerily the same non-majestic numbers as Kemp. His slash line is .164/.186/.299 with two homers, three doubles, nine RBI, two walks and 20 strikeouts in 70 plate appearances.
To make matters even more dismal in relation to the trade with the Dodgers, pitcher Alex Wood is on the injured list with back problems and his return remains murky.
To get Puig, Kemp and Wood, the Reds dealt pitcher Homer Bailey to the Dodgers and LA immediately dumped him. The Kansas City Royals signed him and Bailey is 2-and-1 so far and beat the New York Yankees in his last start.
Bailey has pitched 23 innings and given up 18 hits while walking seven and striking out 23. The painful part for the Dodgers is that Kansas City is paying him the major league minimum of $507,500 and LA is on the hook for the rest of his $22.5 million salary this season.
“It says so much about Kemp that he wanted to stay in the game,” said Bell. “He did everything he could to make that play. A tough guy.”
But so far not a productive guy.
Kemp and Jesse Winker have shared left field for the most part. So does that mean Winker now gets the heavy dose of left field with Kemp on the injured list?
Well, not really. The Reds have recalled Phillip Ervin from Class AAA Louisville to occupy Kemp’s spot on the 25-man roster and Bell doesn’t plan to let him sit and rot in the dugout. He will play.
“It is never a good thing to lose a player, and certainly not Matt,” said Bell. “Phillip has been a part of this team in the past and I got a good look at him this spring and he had a great spring. He has been doing well in Triple-A and he certainly will get opportunities to contribute to this team.”
Ervin actually tore it apart during spring training when he hit five home runs and drove in eight runs in only 41 at bats, with a .341 average. Not good. He didn’t make the team. And he was not having a good time at Louisville — .224 batting average with no homers and two RBI in 49 at bats.
Asked if his Tuesday night line-up of Puig in right, Scott Schebler in center and Jesse Winker in left might be an every day occurrence, Bell waffled (with no maple syrup).
“It is really important to our team to get everybody included,” he said. “We want everybody engaged, everybody to be a part of it. We are going to need everyone. It is going to be a day-to-day thing. We need Phillip Ervin. We’ll look for opportunities to get him playing time. If you have four outfielders there is no reason not to get them playing time and find them spots to have success.”
Kemp has near zero contributions and won’t have a chance for a few weeks to make amends. Puig has near zero contributions and Bell keeps running him out there expecting him to run into a few pitches.
And now Phillip Ervin comes calling.