GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was just like old times for Matt Kemp on Friday, batting fifth in the Dodgers' lineup, fans making the drive from Los Angeles to welcome him back, a 2-for-2 day at the plate with a three-run homer bringing the media back to his locker postgame.
"Y'all act like I've been gone forever," Kemp said with satisfaction. "That was exciting for me."
He's been gone for three years, but he's back. And for disbelievers who think Kemp can't play anymore because he let his body go, that looks like old news. He's fit and hungry to prove them wrong.
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For those who think he can't play defense, Kemp couldn't wait to remind reporters: "I caught my first fly ball today. We're doing good."
"He looks like he's moving around really well," manager Dave Roberts said of Kemp's defense. "That's something we challenged him with. He's very aware that this is a very good club with a lot of good players. He's here to compete, and it's something he welcomes."
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It's only one game into the Cactus League season -- a 13-5 win over the White Sox -- but left field could be Kemp's job to lose, not that there aren't other right-handed options. Enrique Hernandez, who figures to lose the most at-bats if Kemp breaks with the club, also homered on Friday.
Trayce Thompson, out of options and healthy again, had two hits and drove in a run.
With Yasiel Puig resting a sore hip, Roberts batted Kemp behind Cody Bellinger, who had an RBI single.
Whatever clubhouse friction existed when Kemp was dealt to San Diego three years ago, it's gone now as teammates envision the damage that can be done by a lineup lengthened with another 20-plus homer bat.
"You see his offensive numbers the past few years are still pretty special," said Justin Turner, who had one of four Dodgers homers. "So, you throw that bat in the middle of the lineup, that run production is pretty impressive. It will be nice to have another right-handed bat in the lineup. Obviously, today you see the impact he can have in a game."
Kemp's defensive metrics plunged as his weight rose, but he already has trimmed down. And he sounds determined to improve the metrics as well, even though he admits left has always been the toughest of the three outfield spots for him.
"For sure, getting early work in, everything feels good, being in shape and feeling good, it's going to make playing defense a little bit easier," Kemp said. "I was naturally a right fielder, they moved me to center. Left field has been a challenge, but as I've gotten more reps, I get a little more comfortable out there every time."
The Dodgers feel they can help Kemp with analytics-driven positioning. He met with outfield coach George Lombard on Friday and expects to use positioning cards for reminders when the season starts.
"We talked a bit about where he wants me to play," Kemp said. "It's harder in Spring Training with guys you don't know. It's a lot easier during the season with the information we get."