Joe Torre failed to start Matt Kemp for three straight games this week, and when he was asked about it he was kind of coy. The impression given was that he was giving Kemp some time off in order for him to regroup and find a way out of his season-long slump. Dylan Hernandez reports, however, that it was much less zen than that: Kemp was being punished.
Why? Because during Saturday’s game with the Yankees he failed to back up second base when Russell Martin threw to try and nail and Derek Jeter, whole was stealing on the play. When the throw skipped, Kemp wasn’t there and Jeter scampered on to third base.
The problem came after the inning when bench coach Bob Schaefer tried to remind Kemp of his defensive responsibilities on steals, Kemp was dismissive and Torre subsequently decided that Kemp needed some time off.
True Blue L.A. had a great post recently analyzing Kemp’s struggles this year, and determined that they were mostly a function of speed: he’s getting caught stealing, he’s hitting into double plays, he’s not getting infield hits and he’s not tracking down fly balls.
One possibility is that he’s lost a step or has an injury or something. Another possibility — made more likely in my mind given Hernandez’s story — is that Kemp just isn’t all that motivated to bust his ass like he has in the past.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Yankees have signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, pending a physical. Assuming the deal is finalized, Sherman notes that the Yankees will have Niese work as both a starter and a reliever in big league camp this spring.
According to Sherman, the Yankees were interested in lefty relievers Jerry Blevins and Boone Logan, but didn’t want to commit at their asking prices. They are looking for a lefty set-up man along with Tommy Lane.
Niese, 30, pitched for the Pirates and Mets last season, finishing with a 5.50 ERA and an 88/47 K/BB ratio over 121 innings.
Veteran Omar Infante has spent the overwhelming majority of his career as an infielder, but the Tigers plan to give him some playing time in center field this spring. The Tigers’ center field situation is still murky and adding more versatility would increase Infante’s odds of making the roster.
Infante, 35, signed a minor league deal with the Tigers in December. He played 39 games for the Royals last season, batting .239/.279/.321 in 149 plate appearances while playing second base exclusively. Infante last played in the outfield in 2010 with the Braves, and last played center field specifically in ’09 with the Braves.
The Tigers currently have Mikie Mahtook, Tyler Collins, and JaCoby Jones at the top of their center field depth chart. It is not what one would call “optimal.”