Kemp won't rush return during rehab process
Dodgers outfielder stresses full health is priority at FanFest appearance
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp said he rushed back from each of his injuries last season and vowed not to repeat those mistakes this year as he recovers from ankle and shoulder surgery.
"I don't have a timetable right now," Kemp said during an appearance at the club's FanFest at Dodger Stadium on Saturday. "My shoulder feels great. My foot is still healing. It's going to take time. We'll go from there."
Kemp had a relatively minor A/C joint cleanup on the left shoulder that underwent major surgery in 2012. The real concern is the fractured weight-bearing talus bone in the left ankle that required microfracture surgery, a procedure of punching numerous holes in the bone to stimulate the formation of an overlying layer of fibrocartilage.
The operation was performed by Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, N.C., and not by head team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache. Anderson is a team physician for the Carolina Panthers. It is a career-threatening injury that is rare in baseball, although similar to fractures sustained by much older players, Derek Jeter and Magglio Ordonez.
Kemp injured the ankle on July 21 with an awkward slide into home plate in Washington after admittedly not running hard from third base on a ground ball. Originally diagnosed as a sprained ankle, Kemp attempted to rehab the injury, but pain persisted.
Kemp said he hasn't run outdoors yet and doesn't know when he will, but he simulates running on an "Alter-G" machine.
"I'm not going to rush to get back," Kemp said. "I'm going to be 100 percent when I start playing. When it's right, it's right."
Kemp admits that wasn't the case last year. The shoulder bothered him from the start of Spring Training and Kemp said he also "rushed back" from a hamstring and the ankle injury, the latter turning out to be a fracture instead of a sprain.
Kemp hasn't been healthy since running into the center-field fence at Coors Field in August of 2012. He underwent surgery for torn labrum in his left shoulder in 2012.
Kemp is one year into an eight-year, $160 million contract extension he signed after the 2011 season, when he was runner-up to Ryan Braun for National League Most Valuable Player honors. The 29-year-old Kemp played in 73 games last year, hitting .270 with six home runs.
All that said, Kemp still considers himself an elite player.
"Of course I do," he said. "You have to think you're one of the best to be one of the best."
Here's how he put it to the FanFest audience: "I'm not made of glass. I'm still a beast."
Kemp said he has no interest in being part of a platoon, even though the Dodgers also have Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig, each considered a starter.
"I'm an every-day player. I don't want to talk about that," Kemp said when asked about the surplus."
Kemp said it was "a little disappointing to hear your name thrown around" in trade rumors, "but it is what it is. It's the business. L.A. is where I want to be. I'm here for a long period of time. Hopefully, I'll retire a Dodger."
Kemp said he currently is able to hit and throw, and can walk without the protective boot with no pain.
"I've got some swag in my step right now," he joked.
Kemp also said he was happy for teammate Clayton Kershaw on his $215 million contract extension, although he expects to get a new suit from Kershaw because of it.
"He's unbelievable and he deserves everything he gets," Kemp said. "He's one of the hardest working kids I've ever seen."
Manager Don Mattingly, who struggled through back problems much of his career, said he trusts that Kemp will be honest about his health going forward.
"When you're injured over a couple of years, you get tired of not being out there," Mattingly said. "People start to doubt you. People forget that two years ago he was the greatest thing on the planet. Now two years of being hurt and everybody doubts Matt. I know the talent is there. We just have to keep him on the field."
General manager Ned Colletti said the club will be cautious and "when we think he's ready, typically we'll wait a little longer."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.