HOUSTON -- Tony Kemp has received more playing time this year with the A’s than in any of his previous five seasons in the Major Leagues. In turn, he’s responded as one of the club’s most productive players offensively.
Over the past two months, Kemp’s ability to provide a spark led to A’s manager Bob Melvin including him more and more regularly in the starting lineup. Saturday’s 10-4 loss against the Astros at Minute Maid Park was a prime example of why that’s been the case, as Kemp found himself batting leadoff and produced the first four-hit game of his big league career.
Kemp’s 4-for-5 night included a pair of RBIs on four singles. The only thing preventing him from a five-hit effort was a spectacular catch by Kyle Tucker, who timed a leap perfectly at the right-field wall in the sixth to rob what would have been a game-tying three-run home run at the time.
“I wish we could have won the game. But any four-hit game against any team would feel good, to be honest,” Kemp said. “This one just happened to come against Houston.”
A fifth-round pick by the Astros in the 2013 MLB Draft, Kemp has been confined to a part-time utility role, mainly playing off the bench since his arrival to the Majors in 2016. Between his career year at the plate and expected openings for the A’s at second base and in the outfield with impending free agents next season, Kemp might just be in line for his first true full-time starting role in 2022.
In Kemp’s mind, his tenure with the A’s is trending in the exact trajectory he’s expected all along. He recalled a random movie night in January 2020 where he sat down with his wife, Michelle, to watch “Moneyball” for the first time. About a week later, Kemp received a phone call from the Cubs on Jan. 13 informing him that he’d been traded to the A’s.
“We were just browsing and she hadn’t seen it,” Kemp said. “I watched it and thought the Oakland A’s would be a great fit. I feel like I know how to get on base, play good defense and just fit in that role I’ve watched so many players become when they come to Oakland. A week later, I got a call from the Cubs saying they traded me for Alfonso Rivas and here we are.”
Kemp certainly fits the “Moneyball” mold. Entering Saturday’s contest, his .378 on-base percentage ranked fourth among American League hitters with 350 or more plate appearances.
A supreme recognition of the strike zone and impressive bat control has also been on display. From Aug. 17-Sept. 24, he went through a streak of 88 consecutive plate appearances without a strikeout, which tied for the third longest streak in Oakland history and was the longest since Jesus Alou’s streak of 106, set way back in 1974.
“I think it’s a lot of hard work and stuff in the offseason,” Kemp said of his success this year. “Takes me back to a trip I flew up to New York and put in some work. I went up there and put some things together. It’s really paying dividends this year.”
That offseason trip to Rochester, N.Y., featured what Kemp described as “two-a-day” hitting sessions for two straight days alongside Angels catcher and longtime friend Max Stassi at a local batting cage.
“Stassi had a great year last year, and I really wanted to pick his brain on what he did well,” Kemp said. “I hooked myself up to some technology and just figured out how my body worked through the zone and not to think about my hands. This year, I was able to put it together with the amount of volume and plate appearances I was able to get.”
Already having set career highs for runs scored, hits, walks and extra-base hits, Kemp did his best work this season down the stretch in a playoff chase that just fell short for the A’s. Dating back to Aug. 12, he’s now batting .345 (39-for-113) with three homers, four doubles and 16 RBIs.
“He’s had a great year,” Melvin said of Kemp. “Whether we lead him off or hit him down in the lineup. Whether he plays second or left [field], this is the best year he’s ever had. I know he feels comfortable here in Oakland.”
It’s a comfort Kemp could see himself enjoying well past just this season.
“I’m just blessed to be in this position,” Kemp said. "I love the guys. I love everything about the Oakland A’s. Hopefully, I can play here long term.”