Kemp (HR, 3 RBIs) gets a boost from break
OAKLAND -- Coming off his most productive campaign as a big leaguer, Tony Kemp entered 2022 having earned a shot at an everyday role for the first time in his career.
Kemp initially thrived with the increased playing time, carving out a spot atop the A’s lineup through his strong ability to get on base over the first month of the season. But the rigors of a larger workload -- both mental and physical -- soon began to take a toll on Kemp.
“Tony’s been grinding,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “He’s admitted that. He’s talked about some of the struggles he’s had to go through this year, which are different from years past. I think the All-Star break was great for him. I think he’s got a clear mind.”
Utilizing the All-Star break as an escape from a frustrating first half, Kemp has flashed some of that early-season form in the second half, with his towering third-inning solo shot on Monday marking the second time he has homered in back-to-back games over his seven-year MLB career. The home run was part of a two-hit night that also featured an important two-run double in a five-run fourth for the A’s in a 7-5 victory over the Astros at the Coliseum.
After spending time over the break with his wife, Michelle, and their newborn daughter, McKenna, back home in Nashville, Tenn., Kemp made adjustments to his swing upon his return that have paid off immediately. His three RBIs on Monday were a season high, and he had his first multi-hit and multi-RBI game since June 25.
“It was just a good reset to be able to hang out with the wife and kid and really enjoy life for those couple of days,” Kemp said. “For myself, I feel like that was the worst first half I’ve had in 10 professional seasons. It’s definitely good to put it behind me, get in the cage and work on some things mechanically. I’ve been getting some results as of late.”
The results have been positive for the A’s offense as a whole this month. Having already clinched their highest win total for a single month this season with an 11-10 record so far in July, the A’s have seen an uptick at the plate in recent weeks. Though they came into the night ranked last in the Majors in team batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, the A’s have averaged 5.3 runs per game with a .253 team batting average over their past 12 contents.
In their six games back from the break, the A’s have scored at least five runs four times. They reached the five-run mark just 26 times over their first 93 games of 2022.
“I just think their confidence is growing,” Kotsay said of A’s hitters. “We struggled offensively for a large portion of the first half. Right now, I feel like that room in there is building some confidence and starting to believe in the process. Results help that -- getting hits and building innings. The momentum of the offense is there right now.”
Skye Bolt is another hitter who appears to be gaining confidence. Contributing a two-run homer as part of his own two-hit effort on Monday, the outfielder is now 8-for-22 (.364) with three homers and six RBIs over his last nine games. Bolt is one of many players Kemp has noticed arriving to the ballpark earlier than usual for extra work with hitting coach Tommy Everidge inside the batting cages.
“It’s hard to get in the cage right now because guys are in there all the time, and that’s a testament to everybody that’s been putting that work in,” Kemp said. “I think the biggest thing is we’re just being aggressive. Everyone’s confidence is continuing to grow as the season goes on. People are able to find their swings and understand approaches better. You just have to build off that.”
The offensive improvements have helped provide better fortunes for the by the consistent A’s starting pitchers this season. Provided an early cushion, rookie Adam Oller maneuvered through a tough Astros lineup with four runs allowed (three earned) over five-plus innings to earn his first Major League win.
“I know he had been thinking about it ever since his first start,” Kemp said of Oller. “To get that win for him and hold onto that victory was big. Hopefully, he can continue doing what he did tonight, especially against a good team like the Astros.”