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Kemp: 'I feel I can still hit with the best of them'

Veteran, with Rockies on Minor League deal, vies to prove self
@harding_at_mlb
July 8, 2020

DENVER -- Wednesday was like most days for Matt Kemp at Coors Field. Unbowed by a couple threatening inside pitches from Rockies right-hander German Márquez in an intrasquad game, Kemp worked a walk on a low-and-outside pitch in his first appearance. His next at-bat, he timed up Wade Davis for

DENVER -- Wednesday was like most days for Matt Kemp at Coors Field.

Unbowed by a couple threatening inside pitches from Rockies right-hander German Márquez in an intrasquad game, Kemp worked a walk on a low-and-outside pitch in his first appearance. His next at-bat, he timed up Wade Davis for a double, deep to the right of center.

The following time up? His drive to deep right bounced high off the chain-link extended fence protecting the Rockies’ bullpen. A few years back, that would have been a homer. And his next swing hit the base of the same wall.

With Kemp in the team’s Summer Camp under a Minor League contract, this time the Rockies stand to benefit from his Coors dominance.

Of course Kemp enjoys hitting in Denver. His career stats include a .327 batting average, 21 home runs and a 1.005 OPS in 86 games, mostly with the Dodgers (although his cycle on Aug. 14, 2015, was with the Padres).

But Kemp, 35, enjoys studying the craft almost as much as hitting. From the offseason, when he sought out Nolan Arenado -- "one of my favorite right-handed hitters in the game,” he said -- for training and to exchange information, to his arrival in camp, Kemp is treating this as continuing education.

“Just this first week that we've been here, all we do is talk about hitting, breaking down and knowing each other's swings,” said Kemp, a three-time All-Star, most recently in 2018 with the Dodgers. “I've studied these guys because I like to watch hitters. I know these guys' swings. I know when it's on and when it's when it's not on.

“As time goes on, that we'll learn each other more and learn even more about each other. I mean, I'm 35 and I'm still learning about the game, and getting advice from all these guys, so it's a team thing -- everybody's helping one another.”

Kemp figures he can help the Rockies plenty.

Last year, Kemp hit .200 in 20 games with the Reds, but was battling a rib injury. He was still hurting when the team released him. He signed with the Mets and played eight games at Triple-A Syracuse and wasn’t called up. Kemp spent Spring Training with the Marlins but was not included on their Summer Camp roster.

The Rockies, who had pursued Kemp before he signed with the Marlins, wanted him.

Kemp getting his swing ready for the show he put on Wednesday is an example of not just his athletic ability, but his savoir faire.

“The first day he was out there taking BP off the coaches, and he was getting a little disconnected -- getting his hands away from his body,” Rockies hitting coach Dave Magadan said. “We talked about it a little bit right away the next day in the cage. He worked on it, and then it was he was a different guy the next day.

“He's a guy that I've admired across the way for a long time.”

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Kemp, who finished second to the Brewers’ Ryan Braun in National League Most Valuable Player voting in 2011 and 10th in the same election in 2009, is healthy and believes there is more in his bat.

“I still got a lot left in me, a lot left in the tank,” Kemp said. “Coming up as a younger guy, there were guys playing at a high level, at 35 years old. Last year was rough for me because I fractured my rib -- '18, I was an All-Star, last year I got hurt.

“I feel like I can still hit with the best of them and do what I gotta do to help, help team win.”

Jiménez still wants to pitch
Right-handed Ubaldo Jiménez, not included on the Rockies’ Summer Camp roster, told The Denver Post he wants to continue his career. Rockies manager Bud Black commended Jiménez’s desire, but the shutdown and the lack of a Minor League option hurt.

“I love that he’s willing to keep going,” Black said. “We were excited for him to give it another crack.

“He came to camp with open eyes and a willingness to do what we felt and he felt he needed to do to get back potentially as a big leaguer, and that was going to Albuquerque and getting back on track after not pitching for a couple of years.”

Jiménez starred for the Rockies 2006-11. He has not pitched in the Majors since he was with the Orioles in 2017.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.