Kemp confident he's ready for Dodgers' home opener
Star outfielder feels fully healed after serious injury as Los Angeles holds breath
LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kemp is expected to be in the Dodgers' lineup for Friday's home opener against the Giants.
Any other expectations for Kemp are pure speculation, as he's never had to return from a career-threatening injury like the damaged talus bone in his left ankle that he suffered last year.
If there is doubt in Kemp's mind whether the repair work will hold up to the demands of Major League stardom, he isn't showing it.
"I'm as ready as I can be, and [I'm] excited to get out and compete again," Kemp said. "I've done all the practicing I can do, I've done the rehab. I've busted my butt and now I hope all the work has paid off."
Of course, Kemp always says he's ready when returning from an injury, but the track record has left some room for doubt. He once returned from a right hamstring strain, only to blow it out a day later. Kemp rushed back from major left shoulder surgery for the start of the 2013 season, but his power swing didn't rush back with him.
With the club in a pennant race, Kemp tried to wish away last year's left ankle injury he suffered July 21 on an awkward slide into home. He played in only 73 games, hitting .270 with six home runs.
"At first, it was just a sprained ankle, no big deal," Kemp said. "The last game I played, I was running good and figured I was finally over it. The next day, I couldn't walk. Like, what's going on? They took the MRI and told me I couldn't play. That talus bone, if it collapses, I'd never play again. It was something I had to take seriously. If I can't run, I can't play."
The arthroscopic operation that Kemp underwent on Oct. 21 included the removal of several spurs and a loose body.
More importantly, it involved microfracture of the weight-bearing talus bone in Kemp's left ankle, which suffered a stress reaction and cartilage chip. The microfracture procedure punches numerous holes in the bone to stimulate the formation of an overlying layer of fibrocartilage for extra protection. The operation was performed in Charlotte, N.C., by Dr. Robert Anderson, a team physician for the Carolina Panthers.
Manager Don Mattingly said the club has rejected the thought of further Minor League rehab action for Kemp, even if it means the team must bite the bullet and let him work through the rust.
"Physically, in his mind, Matt feels he's ready," Mattingly said. "He's said he's not afraid to do all the things he has to do. In a sense, we can only trust him. He's been honest with us. He doesn't want to get embarrassed. He wants to do well."
Kemp understands the skepticism.
"I just want them to have faith in me and trust what I say," he said. "I'm ready. I told them at the beginning of Spring Training, 'If I'm not ready, I'm not going out there.' I'm telling the truth if I say I can compete with those guys. I have no doubt at all. I've had good years. Everybody has their own opinion, but I know the type of player I am capable of being. Everybody has doubters, but I don't let that affect me.
"Honestly, my legs are in great shape. I've done all the tests, but you can never simulate Major League game situations. I've gone first to third, I've been sliding, I definitely can do that. It's all cool. My shoulder feels great, that's the least of my concerns. The focus on that is over."
While many worry what the Dodgers will do once they have four healthy outfielders for three spots, management can't wait, because it means Kemp will have shown he still has the five tools that resulted in a $160 million contract and nearly the National League MVP Award in 2011.
Kemp said he's had six months to prepare for Friday. He struggled with the detachment players feel when injured, accepted the seriousness of the injury, followed doctors orders during the rehab and is convinced it's healed.
"Definitely," Kemp said. "My confidence is there. The hardest part for me, coming back, is relaxing, slowing the game down. I haven't played healthy in a long time. I'm excited, but I've got to control my emotions, not get anxious or jumpy. Just let the game come to me."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.