Kemp leads with bat, words: 'You've got to make the days count'

September 21st, 2022

OAKLAND -- In a rebuilding year that has been mostly about development for the A’s, this week’s homestand presents an opportunity to take on a different role: spoiler.

Entering a stretch of six games in six days against the Mariners and Mets, these young A’s know they can make life difficult for a pair of teams that are in the thick of a playoff race. On the strength of arguably its most impressive overall pitching performance of the season and 's key three-run homer, Oakland proved to be a headache for Seattle in a series-opening 4-1 victory on Tuesday night at the Coliseum.

"We’re not in the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to go out there and just roll over," Kemp said. "Most of the younger guys I’ve been talking to, I ask them, ‘If you had two more weeks to be a big leaguer, how would you treat it?’ There’s two weeks left and you’ve got to make the days count, not count them. 

"The biggest thing we can do is just have fun. Don’t worry about the result or outcome. Just trust the process. That’s what a lot of guys are doing."

Few seem to be enjoying the waning 2022 campaign more than Kemp. Whereas some players might start to grind over the final couple weeks of the season, the 30-year-old has found a second wind. After batting just .203 over 85 games before the All-Star break, Kemp has turned it around in the second half, now hitting .295 in the 49 games since and finding himself as a regular in the leadoff spot.

Kemp’s offensive production is only trending up, too. Following Tuesday’s two-hit effort, he’s now 18-for-56 (.321) with six extra-base hits (three home runs) and 12 RBIs through 15 September games.

"You can see he’s having more fun than he had in April and May," manager Mark Kotsay said of Kemp. "Success leads to that. You can see he’s the generator for our offense right now. He’s a spark plug. It’s good that we have him back performing the way he is."

There was even a bit of extra joy oozing from Kemp on his homer off Luis Castillo in the fifth. Upon connecting on a 1-0 changeup, sent well beyond the right-field wall an estimated 371 feet per Statcast for his seventh homer of the year -- now one away from tying his career-high -- Kemp dropped his bat and admired his go-ahead three-run shot at home plate for a few seconds before calmly jogging around the bases.

Turns out, the added exuberance was the result of a game-within-a-game against Mariners catcher Curt Casali, who knows Kemp’s offensive approach well from their time as college teammates at Vanderbilt.

"He knows how to pitch me," Kemp said of Casali. "He knows that in the second, third and fourth at-bat of the night, I don’t really swing at the first pitch if it’s offspeed. I saw the first-pitch changeup and really felt like he wasn’t going to give me a 1-0 heater in that situation. I was just sitting soft and was able to see a changeup right there and put a good swing on it."

Asked about the bat drop, Kemp responded: "Yeah. That one felt good, for sure."

Kemp’s blast alone provided enough support on a night that saw A’s pitchers combine limit Seattle to one hit -- an infield single in the second. It began with , who worked his way out of a 37-pitch second inning by allowing just an unearned run to finish with seven strikeouts and three walks over five one-hit innings. The bullpen foursome of Joel Payamps, A.J. Puk, Tyler Cyr and Domingo Acevedo followed up with four hitless frames, ending with Acevedo notching his third career save.

"Next year, a lot of it is determined by how you finish," said Sears, who entered the night holding an 8.00 ERA over his previous four starts. "All of us want to finish strong, whether it’s stats or finishing healthy. The guys here are still hungry to win and we still enjoy being out there. I wish the season could last even longer because I’m enjoying being here and I love competing. That’s the attitude I feel like everybody else brings as well."