In recent weeks, both Matt Kemp and his agent Dave Stewart have made comments regarding the status of Kemp’s health and the possibility that he may not be ready for Opening Day. Stewart suggested that it would be best for Kemp to wait until after the Los Angeles Dodgers return from their Australia trip before attempting to play, and Kemp seemed to agree, though he did not refer to any specific dates, telling fans at the Dodgers’ annual community caravan:
"I'm not going to rush to get back. I'm going to be 100 percent when I start playing. When it's right, it's right."
This is something of a departure for Kemp, who has admitted on several occasions that he may have returned to action too soon following several of his recent injuries. The Dodgers are now in a much better position to allow him to be patient in his return, as the lineup is now much more balanced and powerful than it had been in the past. Since Kemp’s MVP-runner up season of 2011, the Dodgers have added Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig, placing much less pressure on Kemp to contribute right away.
One of the injuries that Kemp rushed back from was the torn labrum in his shoulder, an injury that required surgery in 2012. Both Gonzalez and Ramirez have suffered similar injuries, and both players have indicated that it takes about two years to recover and the power does not necessarily return. If Kemp is able to return to the lineup healthy and productive, the Dodgers offense could be even more potent than last year.
It is easy to forget that the Dodgers were able to run away with the NL West without a player once considered the franchise cornerstone. If Kemp is able to return to anywhere close to the player he was in 2011, the Dodgers could be even more dangerous than currently projected. The only underlying issue may be how easily the egos in the outfield will be managed, and Kemp made some comments regarding the outfield situation that may foreshadow some trouble for manager Don Mattingly:
"I'm an every-day player. I don't want to talk about that.”
Before 2012, Kemp was an incredibly durable player, and though it was a far cry from Cal Ripken, Jr., for a time he even boasted the longest active consecutive games played streak. From 2008 to 2011, Kemp played in at least 155 games per season, and made more than 650 plate appearances in each. However, his injury history and his current concern regarding his return from injury makes it seem as though it would be in his best interest to allow Mattingly to rotate playing time between Kemp, Crawford, Puig and Andre Ethier. There is additional concern relating to Kemp’s injured ankle, as he fractured the talus bone, an injury termed by doctors at the time as “career-threatening.”
Kemp is heading into his age-29 season, and there is a strong possibility that he bounces back and returns to being the player he was in 2011. If he allows the Dodgers to manage his health and does not take offense to regular rest days, it is easy to see Kemp and the Dodgers succeeding in the postseason.
Mattingly seems to have the right perspective on the situation, saying:
"When you're injured over a couple of years, you get tired of not being out there. 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."
If Mattingly and the Dodgers are able to accomplish this goal, expect to see big things from Kemp and his teammates in October.
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