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Don Mattingly confident in Matt Kemp's defense

Harry How

Matt Kemp's defense in center field was a topic of discussion before the Dodgers' 7-4 loss to the Giants, and a few plays in Sunday's game provided examples on both ends of the spectrum.

With two outs and a runner on third base in the first inning, Pablo Sandoval lofted a fly ball to left center just out of reach of a diving Kemp for a double and a 1-0 Giants lead. A few short hours earlier, manager Don Mattingly was asked if Kemp was limited physically after two injury-plagued seasons.

"I don't think there are any areas [that he's limited]. His speed is coming, his burst is back with stolen bases. For us it's just continuing to stay out there. We're seeing him get better and better at the plate," Mattingly said. "Obviously we want him to continue to work on his jumps and breaks in center field."

Kemp did have to run a long way in the first inning on the ball hit by Sandoval, but like several other balls hit in the vicinity of center field this season, it landed just out of Kemp's reach.

Among all center fielders in baseball with at least 100 innings in 2014 heading into Sunday, Kemp ranks 35th and last in Ultimate Zone Rating, at 6.7 runs below average. He ranks 91st out of 97 center fielders in Total Zone Rating at four runs below average, and is 92nd of 97 in Baseball Info Solutions Defensive Runs Saved, at five runs below average.

"I've seen them," Mattingly said of the ratings. "But it's kind of what our eyes see, too. I'm not really sure what they're measuring. What we are sure of is that physically he's okay. He's won a Gold Glove, so he's capable of that type of defense."

Kemp won Gold Glove Awards in 2009, when he rated at +3.9 runs per 150 games in Ultimate Zone Rating, and in 2011, when his UZR/150 was 4.9 runs below average. In all his other years with regular center field duty, Kemp's UZR/150 ranged from -2.4 (2008) to -35.0 (2013). Through Saturday, Kemp's UZR/150 was at -41.3.

"We just have to continue to work to get back to that," Mattingly explained. "That's where he has to put the time in to continue to work on his jumps and his reads, all the things that you need to do to be a quality center fielder. It's still there."

It was still there for Kemp in the sixth inning, when Kemp tracked down this would-be double by Tim Hudson with a diving catch.

Kemp did it again in the eighth with a nice over-the-shoulder catch to rob Brandon Crawford in deep center.

Up next

The Dodgers welcome the Marlins to town for a three-game series beginning Monday night at Dodger Stadium. Dan Haren starts the opener for the Dodgers, against Tom Koehler for Miami.