Q and A: Nomar goes yard on Kemp’s hamstrung decision to go HR Derby — he should know

Nomar Garciaparra feels Matt Kemp’s strain.

In the 1999 MLB All-Star Game Home Run Derby, Garciaparra was recruited to join in the long-ball exhibition. It was a natural – the Boston Red Sox shortstop, at Fenway Park.

One problem: Garciaparra had spent most of that season on the DL with a bad hamstring, scheduled to come back right after the Mid-Summer Classic. He got clearance, did the drill (only hit two) and then played just a couple innings of the game the next day.

Kemp, after missing most of the first half of this season with a bad hamstring, has agreed to captain the NL Home Run Derby team and take his cuts – but not play in the exhibition game the next night in Kansas City. The 27-year-old’s DL stint is set to end when the second half the season begins.

Garciaparra has Kemp’s back on this one.

The 38-year-old Garciaparra, still living in Manhattan Beach with his wife, Mia Hamm, twin 5-year-old daughters who love to play soccer while his nearly six-month old son watches for now, was able to offer Kemp some pointers before an appearance in the 2011 MLB All-Star Game Home Run Derby (linked here).

Now, the ESPN analyst, still living in Manhattan Beach with his wife, Mia Hamm, twin 5-year-old daughters who love to play soccer with a nearly six-month old son watching for now, talks about whether Dodgers fans have anything to worry about with Kemp, as well as other team-related issues of the day:

Q: If you were in Kemp’s situation, not at full strength, would you risk participating in the Home Run Derby knowing all that goes into it?

A: I’ve been in a situation where I was on the DL going into the All Star Game back in ’99, and I was scheduled to come off right after the game. So it was one where it was almost like my little rehab game being in that All Star Game. I also knew it was only going to be a few innings, and I was careful about it. That was at the time I was going into it, cleared it with everybody, talked to the doctors, talked to the organization and they all understood going into it how I was using it.

I don’t know how far along Matt Kemp is or how he’s feeling, but if that’s the case, I mean, from what I am reading, he is doing rehab games, so if that’s the case I think he’ll be fine at least participating in the Home Run Derby.

I think what he has going for him is he’s done it before. This is only his second time, at least he kind of knows what it’s all about and the toll it takes on your body. It does take a toll on your muscles, but it’s different from cramping than injuring it.

Q. Can you describe a little bit about what this thing does to your body? What hurts most after you’re done doing it?

A: I think it’s more your back. There might be some muscles that feel hurt, but you’re like, ‘Whoa, I really swung and that was it,’ and (the hurt) was gone by the next day. I did a Home Run Derby once in the offseason (in 2000, in Las Vegas) and then you’re not swinging as much, and then every part of my body was sore after that. It was from head to toe because you realized how much you used – it’s a lot different.

Q: Is there added pressure to do this, not wanting to disappoint fans, maybe overlooking how it could mess up your swing or slow up a healing injury?

A: I thought it was great, you have fun with it. That’s the great thing about it. I felt like, really, you want me hitting in there with guys like Mark McGwire? I just want to make sure I hit one. But then I couldn’t do it, and I knew in batting practice I had hit 10. It was kind of funny. I was having a blast. For me, I took that attitude.

For Kemp, he’s been taking BP, going through workouts, in a game situation (with rehabs), not participating in the All Star Game itself. It’s like batting practice, but it won’t take as much as playing in the game. I’ve felt cramps in my legs and calves before from swinging, but it’s not hurting it, it’s like from a lack of water.

The other thing, too, it’s not pressure, but it’s an honor. Matt, as the captain, he recognizes it and appreciates it. For me in ’99, it was, ‘Do I play? Do I not play? How does this look?’ I sat down with the coaches, manager Jimy Williams, we talked awhile, we all talked, we knew it was an opportunity for me to go out there, voted in by the fans, playing at Fenway, all that came into the discussion. I didn’t want to jeopardize the ultimate goal. I was home, I had my own trainers, so it was like a rehab start for me. With all going on, here’s something I’d do in the minors but it just happens to be in a big-league All-Star game. It was a good time to get my feet wet so I could start the next half.

He’s not playing. He’s taking a break. He deserves to enjoy this. It’s a huge honor. I really don’t think the Home Run Derby will push him a step back. If he feels he’s jeopardizing anything, I don’t think he’d be doing it.

Maybe you feel like you’re trying not to disappoint anyone, but that’s when it’s great to have guy like (Don) Mattingly has your manager. He knows what’s happening and they’ve gone over the scenarios. We all know the value that Matt Kemp has to the success of the Dodgers. Despite what the All-Star game represents, every player will say when asked if they’d rather be an All-Star or win a championship, it’s the championship, and there’s nothing they should do to jeopardize that. What Mattingly can do is know what it’s like to go through that. If they’re giving him their blessing, then that says a lot.

Q: On this side of the media now, do you think the media puts too much emphasis on how an injury can be aggravated by an All-Star game festivity? Most of the media guys haven’t swung anything more than a golf club and wouldn’t know how their body would feel after a Home Run Derby.

A: I think so, because they’re wondering, ‘How can you do this?’ It’s like they know if something happens, then they can blame it on that. This Home Run Derby isn’t going to be the reason if Kemp is hurt again. I don’t see that. You take precautions for it. We swing the bat hard all the time. We take batting practice. Guys have home run derbies during batting practice, so they’re always trying to hit bombs out of the park. It’s not like this is the first time they’ve ever tried to hit a ball that far. Wow, my goodness. I’ve been there on days you’re having fun, betting each other a Coke they can outhit each other. It’s not out of the ordinary.

Q: How about a Dodger mid-season report card: What kind of potholes do you see them needing to pay attention to, aside from the injuries, to have some second-half success?

A: The key for them is the fact their injuries can be recovered from, with Kemp and (Andre) Ethier and now Dee Gordon and his thumb. The good thing is you know they’re coming back with the kind of injuries they have compared to some who are out for the season. You’ll always have injuries, and they may be key components, but if you know they’re coming back, so we gotta pick up our game and carry each other.

I think they’re capable of doing that and recognizing and finally understanding that as a team. There are times, too, when you start winning games without those key guys, and realize they can do it without relying on them, it gives you a whole new confidence, and you find out more about yourself and your team. It’s a part of the game where we’re stronger. The running part of the game, or handling the bats, all kinds of different things. You’re not sitting back any more and saying, ‘Our big boys will do it. We’ll do our small part.’ So they’re not there, so how are you going to win?

Q: You helped fill gaps in the Dodgers infield during your time there (2006-08). Are there issues at first and third base, without anyone hitting for power or average? You hear trade rumors. Is that something they need to address sooner rather than later?

A: What (General manager) Ned (Colletti) has always been able to do is find someone to give them a boost and improve the team. When he’s looking at the production of those two positions, he’s trying to fill that without losing too much, too. He’s been able to do great things, going back to Manny (Ramirez) and I look back when I was there, and he brought in Casey Blake to play third and other guys of that nature. So while he’s doing that, maybe there are two guys at that position who pick it up.

Q: Your time with the Dodgers in the Frank McCourt era seems to be much different than the attitude hanging over the park now. Looking back at those times, how do you think McCourt will be remembered for his impact versus this new ownership group is moving forward?

A: For me, when I was there, Frank treated me great. And I always appreciated that. Also, I thought we really made a great change in the Dodgers. He might have come in and done some things and thought he was doing things right, but he took a step back and knew he had to make some changes, and brought in some veteran guys, like Ned Colletti and Grady Little (as manager). Now, the Dodger way had started to come back a little bit. Then you had young guys coming up, setting the tone for what we’re supposed to be about. For that, credit him.

I don’t know what really happened after the divorce and all that, from the outside looking in, but from my time there, there were a lot of good things going on and people were excited to watch us. We had a good attitude that people were starting to realize, ‘Wait, this is the Dodgers I used to see all the time.’ Then there’s a hiccup, but my view of McCourt, those were good years and good times.

Q: Were you a big Magic Johnson fan growing up?

A: I was, yeah, a big Laker fan and Magic fan. And about those groups who were bidding on the team, I knew some of them, some amazing options where you weren’t just thinking, ‘I hope this one group gets it.’ It was if any three or four groups got it, then you knew the Dodgers would be just fine. People genuinely cared about the team and wanted to see it succeed.

Q: Why do you think today’s game is so pitcher-dominant than hitter-dominant as it was in the past. It seems there’s a pitcher chasing a no-hitter or perfect game every week now. Any trends you see? Any trends?

A: You also see a lot of pitchers just throwing harder. Players are bigger, faster, stronger, always evolving. It’s the science of how you train. It’s not just hitters, but it goes along the lines of pitchers, as well. We did a research project at ESPN and there was more than, over the last two or three years, who averaged more than 95 mph, has doubled. It’s just amazing. This isn’t just 90-to-95. Before, there might be one guy per division who could do that. Now maybe there’s one or two per team. With starters, relievers, closers. It’s funny. Maybe its cyclical. It’s hitting, then it’s pitching. That’s what’s great about this game. There are no easy answers to it. You can’t explain it. Come back and watch it. I’m loving it.

Q: What about the theory that most major-league hitter can hit the fastball, but it’s the curve that will always be the thing that kills them? How can these pitcher just mow down hitters like they’re nothing? Do hitters finally catch up with it?

A: Yeah, it’s not fastballs. I guarantee if all the guy throws is fastballs, hitters will hit it. It’s having a cutter to gear up for. Then a 97 mph fastball. You have to gear up to catch up to it. You can’t decide to swing at it after you see it. You have to anticipate the 97 mph fastball, which makes you more susceptible to that different curveball, or slider, or cutter, or changeup, because of the increase of velocity in the fastball. If there’s a huge discrepancy in the velocity, that makes it tougher as a hitter.

It’s all about timing. If you throw a 90 mph fast ball and your curve is at 87, that’s not a big discrepancy. Now that fastball comes faster, and it cuts a little bit, the pitchers are getting guys to make out by hitting it just off the barrel (of the bat). That’s all it’s supposed to do. It’s not there to strike you out. It’s a different philosophy and mentality out there. Guys throwing no-hitters aren’t always striking out 15 or 16, but sometimes a guy does it and only strikes out two or three. That’s going on, too. They’re throwing pitches to get guys out.

Q: How does the ball movement from the pitch play into that? You can see a Kenley Jansen throw 95, but his ball is also moving a lot.

A: You’re looking for guys with the natural movement. You’ll never be successful in this game throwing straight. You can throw 100 mph fastball, but a hitter will figure it out if it’s straight. But if you have movement and hitting your spots, wow. Add movement, accuracy and velocity. You might have two of three, but when you get them all . . . now guys are able to control it more. There are guys I’m watching now I wish I could try to get out there and figure them out. I’d be fun to go try to hit that.

That’s still having a hitter’s mentality, right?

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