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Matt Kemp homers in his Dodgers return, but his defense will be what to watch this spring

Dodgers hit 4 HR in spring opener

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX — For the first time in over 40 months Matt Kemp wore a Dodgers uniform in a game, and the results looked awfully familiar. Kemp hit one of four Dodgers home runs in their spring training opener, a 13-5 win over the White Sox on Friday at Camelback Ranch.

Kemp batted fifth Friday and started in left field, his most likely position should he remain with the Dodgers. Kemp, who has 774 career starts in center field and 436 in right field, was limited to left field in his season and a half with the Braves, and called it the toughest outfield position for him.

“Left field has been a challenge but as I get more reps I get comfortable out there every single time,” Kemp said.

A the plate Kemp singled in his first at-bat, then hit a three-run home run in the third inning.

“You throw that bat in the middle of the lineup, the run production is really impressive,” said third baseman Justin Turner, who also homered. “It’s definitely nice to have another big, right-handed bat in the lineup, and the impact that he can have on the game.”

But it’s not offense the Dodgers are watching most with Kemp this spring. Instead he will be judged on how well he can handle the outfield, where he has ranked as one of the worst defenders in baseball over the last three seasons. His defense will help determine how large a role Kemp might have with the Dodgers, or perhaps how much of Kemp’s remaining $43 million in salary over the next two seasons they might be able to offload in a trade.

“We haven’t seen Matt in a few years. For us it’s to see how good his body’s moving,” manager Dave Roberts said. “In the batters box he’s been very consistent with production. The drop off has been defensively. It’s something Matt is very clear on and something we’ll keep an eye on.”

Outfield coach George Lombard has worked with Kemp on positioning, and Kemp showed up to camp a reported 40 pounds lighter than in 2017. Kemp played four innings in left field.

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Kemp caught the only fly ball hit his way on Friday, a fly out by Yoan Moncada in the second inning.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

“I caught my first fly ball today, so I’m doing good,” Kemp said, smiling. “I’m getting early work in and everything feels good. Being in shape is going to make playing defense a little bit easier.”

Power surge

Kemp wasn’t alone among Dodgers in going deep on Friday. Turner hit the club’s first home run of the spring with a solo shot in the first inning, and utility man Kiké Hernandez — starting at shortstop against Chicago — hit a solo shot as well.

With the home runs by Kemp and Hernandez, and with southpaw Madison Bumgarner scheduled to start on March 29 for the Giants, there are excellent odds that the Dodgers’ opening day left fielder homered on Friday.

Logan Forsythe also homered for the Dodgers on Friday.

Bold beginnings

Wilmer Font got the start for the Dodgers in the spring opener, trying to make the club either as a starter if needed or possibly in relief. The right-hander is out of options.

“He’s got a good mix. He’s got the fastball with good carry in the zone. He’s got a good breaking all and that split-change thing,” Roberts said. “We just want him to attack guys.”

Font did just that, retiring all six batters he faced on Friday with two strikeouts, two ground outs and an infield pop out.

“Just beating bats with the fastball,” Roberts said. “He was efficient.”

Edward Paredes struck out all three batters he faced in the eighth inning. “The fastball command from Edward was good,” said Roberts.

Up next

The Dodgers split their squad into two on Saturday, hosting the Giants at Camelback Ranch and visiting the Royals in Surprise in a pair of 12:05 p.m. PT starts. Ross Stripling starts the home game Saturday for the Dodgers, and Zach Neal the road contest.