It looks like Matt Kemp is all ready to go for Friday afternoon, and the Dodgers are prepared to activate him. Kemp has not played in a major league game since September of 2013, and the Dodgers have been bringing him along slowly but surely, as the all-star center fielder recovers from ankle, and shoulder injuries.
Kemp had been playing in minor league games at Camelback Ranch until the minor league camps broke to begin their regular seasons. Once that happened Kemp rejoined the Dodgers, and at the time there was no timetable for when he would return. The Dodgers weren’t going to rush him back into action this time around. Kemp has reported that he is feeling 100% healthy and has fully healed from his injuries. If he says he’s ready to go, and the Dodger’s medical staff says he’s ready, then I guess he’s ready. Only one way to find out for certain, and that’s to play him.
I expect for Kemp to be in the lineup for opening day at Dodger Stadium on Friday afternoon against the Giants. But that makes me pause and think of something. How has Kemp fared in his first games back returning from the disabled list?
Before 2012, and before the injury door opened, Kemp was never hurt. He once played in 399 consecutive games. He was an iron man, until he wasn’t anymore. In April of 2007, Kemp separated his shoulder crashing into the right field wall at Dodger Stadium. That was on opening day actually, and Kemp was out for about two months.
Then from 2007, through 2012 Kemp played in about every single game without injury. It wasn’t until early May of 2012, when Kemp first strained his hamstring, that opened the floodgates so to speak. After missing more than two months, he would tear his shoulder in August, during a death-defying crash into the Coors Field wall while chasing down a fly ball.
The injury carousel would continue for Kemp into 2013, after re-injuring his shoulder, and then suffering a freak base running injury to his ankle, that required offseason surgery to correct. Let’s take a look at the history of Kemp’s return from the DL, and how he has fared in those games.
2007 return – June 9 versus Toronto- 0 for 4
When Kemp returned from the disabled list in 2007, his first game back was during an interleague series against Toronto. Kemp had been sent back to Las Vegas for about 39 games once he recovered from his shoulder injury. Kemp had missed 53 games with his separated shoulder, and had actually returned the night before, as a pinch-runner on June 8. He didn’t get his first at-bats until the next night on June 9, when he started in right field. In that game, Kemp would go 0 for 4 with a strikeout, as the Dodgers would lose to the Blue Jays by a score of 1-0.
2012- Return number 1- May 29, versus Milwaukee, 1 for 4, 2B
On May 29, of 2012, Kemp returned from his first disabled list stint from a strained hamstring. Kemp had been out since May 13, and the Dodgers at the time desperately needed him. In his first game back, Kemp went 1 for 4 with a double in that game, played a full nine innings in center field and seemed fine. Unfortunately the very next night he strained his hamstring again scoring from second base on an Andre Ethier double. Kemp would be placed back on the disabled list and not return again until after the all-star break.
2012 return -2 July 13 versus San Diego – 2 for 4, 2B
Kemp would miss an additional 37 games before returning to action on July 13 at home against San Diego. In that game, Kemp would go 2 for 4 with a double, leading the Dodgers to a 2-1 win. All seemed right with the world at that time.
2013 return -1 June 25 versus San Francisco- 1 for 4, R
After the first two months of the 2013 season, Kemp was struggling badly. His shoulder hadn’t fully healed and after a series in San Francisco, Kemp re-injured the shoulder during an awkward swing. Kemp had been playing poorly, barely hitting above .250 for most of the season, and he had only hit two home runs. The Dodgers placed him on the disabled list, and he missed 24 games.
He returned on June 25th, ironically against the Giants. He went 1 for 4 with a run scored, and helped the Dodgers beat the Giants 6-5.
2013 return – 2 July 21, @ Washington-3 for 4 HR, 3 RBI, R, BB, 2B
After experiencing more problems with his hamstring, the Dodgers placed Kemp back on the disabled list, and after missing another 11 games, Bison returned on July 21, during a road series at Washington. Kemp’s return was a triumphant one, until it wasn’t. In that game, Kemp went 3 for 4, and crushed a home run, giving Dodger fans hope that the Bison of old had finally returned. That hope was quickly dashed as Kemp injured his ankle in a freak base running accident in the top of the ninth.
With the Dodgers leading 9-2, Kemp was jogging home to score from third base on a ground ball. Kemp wasn’t paying attention and didn’t realize that there was going to be a play at the plate. He couldn’t decide whether to slide, or come in standing up. He tried to slide at the last minute as the Nationals fired the ball to home plate to try and tag him out. During an awkward slide, Kemp rolled his ankle underneath his leg, nearly breaking it. Later on we found out that Kemp had essentially broken his weight-bearing bone, and it was much worse than we had imagined. Kemp would not be back until late September.
2013 return- 3 September 17, @ Arizona-4 for 4, 2 2B, 3 RBI, R
After an unsuccessful rehab assignment at Rancho, Kemp felt tightness in his hamstring again, and the Dodgers shut him down for another couple of weeks. The Dodgers would eventually activate Kemp during a road trip in late September with the club on the verge of clinching the NL West division title.
Kemp had actually returned the night before as a pinch-hitter in the ninth, and struck out in his only at-bat. The next night, on September 17, Kemp would go 4 for 4 with two doubles, and three runs driven in, leading the boys in blue to a 9-3 win. The Dodgers would clinch the division title two nights later with Kemp in the lineup.
About ten days later, the Dodgers would discover that Kemp had a microfracture in his ankle, and had suffered an articular talar injury to his talus bone. I’m not a doctor, so I have no clue what an articular talar injury is, so Let’s just say Kemp’s ankle was screwed. He was immediately shut down and missed the playoffs. He would have to have ankle surgery during the offseason. The Dodgers still stated that Kemp would be ready for opening day in 2014.
So in the six games where Kemp returned from the disabled list, he’s collected 11 hits in 24 at-bats, that’s a .458 average with a home run, four runs batted in, and six extra-base hits.
Kemp usually does pretty well in these first games back. Will Kemp’s return to the lineup be a triumphant one? History tells us it should be.