LOS ANGELES -- For the first time in 48 games, Matt Kemp played center field on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, returning to his old position under rather unusual circumstances.
The game started with Kemp in left field, his 42nd start at the position in the last 43 games. But after Yasiel Puig was called out on strikes to end the third inning, he remained at home plate arguing with umpire David Rackley, then getting ejected.
In the top of the fourth inning, Carl Crawford was brought in to replace Puig, but Crawford went to left field, the only position he has played since 2009. Kemp moved from left to center field, his first time at the position since May 22 in New York. Andre Ethier, who started in center field, his 34th start there in 48 games since Kemp last played the position, moved to right field.
Manager Don Mattingly explained after the game.
"Carl we talked about getting some work out in center but hasn't been out there in forever, so I wanted him to be comfortable in left," Mattingly said. "Matt hasn't been in right at all, and I knew Dre could play all three easily, and that Matt would be comfortable in center."
If there is one thing Mattingly has shown, it's that he will almost never put a player in a position he isn't familiar with, not without advance notice or practice. We saw it earlier with Kemp's transition from center to left field, a position he hadn't played in eight years. Kemp didn't start for five straight games back in May.
Given that Kemp hadn't played right field since 2009, on some level it makes sense that Mattingly didn't want his first time back at the position be in a game situation. It doesn't make the center field situation any less complicated or any less glaring a weakness, however.
To make matters even weirder, when Kenley Jansen entered the game in the ninth inning, he came in on a double switch in Crawford's spot, moving Kemp back to left field and putting pinch hitter Scott Van Slyke in center field for the final inning.
Van Slyke has started 14 games at the position this season, a fact that likely would have made someone a lot of money with a preseason wager.
"With Van Slyke, we feel like he's the best defender in center field," Mattingly said. "You try to put everyone in the best position."
The Dodgers will enter the All-Star break no worse than a virtual tie for first place, and enter Sunday with the best record in the National League. Hyun-jin Ryu starts the series finale for the Dodgers, facing NL All-Star selection Tyson Ross for San Diego.