GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Matt Kemp isn’t in a rush to get back. Not this time.
“Me rushing back hasn’t helped me any the last two years,” he said. “So I need to take a different approach.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder underwent surgery on his left ankle last October after the injury sidelined him the last two months of the season, as well as throughout the team’s postseason run.
Kemp did some fielding and throwing when the Dodgers went through their first full-squad workout of spring training on Friday. He said the injury hasn’t affected his ability to hit, either.
Running is the problem. For now, he’s working on a treadmill to improve the ankle’s strength.
“I can’t tell you whether it’s 60 percent, 70 percent. I really haven’t tested it yet,” he said. “I’m taking my time.””
Kemp said he has no timetable for his return but said he won’t play until he feels he’s completely healthy.
“I don’t want to be a player that comes back and feels good and gets hurt again and comes back,” he said. “I want to play the whole year and be 100 percent.”
Manager Don Mattingly has said he doesn’t expect Kemp to be ready when the Dodgers open their season in Australia on March 22. Kemp doesn’t necessarily agree.
“Nobody knows that,” he said. “I don’t know when I’ll be ready. I might be ready before the season starts. I might be ready a couple of games after. I can’t tell, man. Only time will tell.”
Kemp also underwent left shoulder surgery to clean out some loose particles, rectifying a problem that plagued him last year before the ankle injury.
“I was cutting my swing. I couldn’t get extension. I couldn’t do a lot of things,” he said. “Now I got my AC joint cleaned up, nothing going on in there, I feel great shoulder- , body-wise.”
Before being slowed by hamstring problems in 2012, then the shoulder and ankle issues last year, Kemp had been something of an iron man, appearing in 399 consecutive games without injury before being left out of the lineup one day in May of 2012.
In the process, he became one of the game’s best players.
In 2011, his last full healthy season, Kemp hit .329 and led the NL in home runs (39) and RBIs (126). That year Kemp finished second to Ryan Braun in MVP voting, an award many felt should have been given to him retroactively after Braun’s performance-enhancing drug issues.
He missed 56 games in 2012, but still hit .303 with 23 homers and 69 RBIs. Last year, Kemp appeared in 71 games, batting .270 with six home runs and 33 RBIs.
He said he has not lost any confidence in his abilities.
“I’m still the player that I’ve always been,” Kemp said. “I’ve just been hurt, guys. It’s hard to go out there and play and try to be the player you can be when you’ve been hurt for a while.”
At 29, he said he has no doubt he can return to his previous form.
“I don’t know if y’all think I can play,” he said, “but I know I can still play baseball.”
Kemp’s injuries sidelined him just as the Dodgers were racing on to a highly successful season, with a new young star outfielder in Yasiel Puig.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “You want to be out there with your teammates playing. Injuries come in this game, and I’ve been injured when the team is doing real good.”
When he comes back, Kemp wants nothing to do with any extra outfielder role.
“I’m not a fourth outfielder,” he said. “I’m not going to be a fourth outfielder. I’m here to help my team win every day. I won’t accept that role. I can’t accept that role.”