Kemp's June turnaround is bright spot amid A's offensive struggles

June 25th, 2023

TORONTO -- Of all the lessons A’s youngsters can draw from , “how to struggle” is a weird but invaluable one.

Kemp’s solo home run off Yusei Kikuchi provided the A’s with a fleeting glimpse of offensive production on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre, as Oakland managed just three hits in a 12-1 loss to the Blue Jays in the rubber match.

It was a particularly painful way to wrap up a 1-5 road trip. For Kemp, however, it was another bright spot in his June renaissance.

“The best two at-bats off of [Kikuchi] came from Tony,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “ … Tony’s turned it around.”

Kemp was just late in his first at-bat, sending a fastball up in the zone to shortstop Bo Bichette for a groundout in the third inning. He didn’t miss in the sixth, pulling Kikuchi’s first-pitch fastball a Statcast-projected 369 feet to right field to win the lefty-on-lefty matchup.

With Sunday’s homer -- his third of the year -- Kemp improved to a .297 batting average with a .921 OPS this month. His season average still begins with a 1, though, which is a good indication of the start he had to 2023.

Quality of contact was the biggest concern. Kemp didn’t strike out or even chase pitches outside the zone that often in the first two months of the season, but poor timing led to weak contact, which in turn generated a frustrating amount of balls on the ground.

But instead of dwelling, Kemp trusted himself to find his tempo, work at-bats and regain his form.

“He’s a pro,” Kotsay said of Kemp. “He put his head down and kept working and kept grinding, and now he’s getting some results.”

This is what the A’s need from their veterans.

In the thick of a rebuild, Oakland has searched for every opportunity to provide its young prospects with experience, but that process isn’t without growing pains. The A’s rank last this season in batting average, OPS and slugging percentage, and their 744 strikeouts are the second-worst mark in MLB.

That’s what makes a guy like Kemp especially important. Now in his eighth big league season, he’s never posted more than eight home runs in a year, and that’s not likely to change. What he can be for this team, though, is an example.

“He definitely showed the young guys what it means to go through a struggle at this level and continue to work,” said Kotsay. “Time is his ally. He's coming out of it and being a true pro.”

Not-so-funky, cold Medina
Command was the big issue for Luis Medina in Sunday’s loss, as he walked a season-worst seven batters in five innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits. The rookie right-hander was greeted by a George Springer leadoff home run on his second pitch of the day, and things continued to unravel after that.

“I worked up a lot of 0-2 counts, but I couldn’t find the zone to finish them off,” Medina said in Spanish. “I can keep learning from this outing, but it’s already in the past.”

It makes sense that he’d want a quick turn of the page on this one.

Springer’s homer was a tough blow for Medina, but no play better illustrated the 24-year-old’s struggles than his fourth run allowed.

After retiring Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the bottom of the third, Medina walked Matt Chapman on four pitches, yielded a single to Cavan Biggio, then surrendered another walk to Santiago Espinal. With the bases loaded and No. 8 hitter Kevin Kiermaier at the plate, Medina lost his grip on a 1-2 curveball, bouncing it on the dirt for a wild pitch that allowed Chapman to score.

Medina struck out Kiermaier to end the frame, then he pitched two more scoreless innings, regaining the form that was mostly on display in his previous outing, when he allowed one earned run with four strikeouts and one walk in 4 1/3 innings against Cleveland.

“For seven walks, to only give up four runs through five innings, he still got out of it,” said Kotsay. “It’s part of that growing process, part of that maturation. You’re going to have games like that from young starters. He competed; he gave us everything he had. We’ll evaluate it and move forward.”