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Matt Kemp’s Health is Key to Dodgers Second Half


Watching Yoenis Cespedes hit monster bombs during the Home Run Derby on Monday evening made me reminisce about the Matt Kemp of 2011. While Kemp did not hit anywhere near Cespedes’s mark of 32 homers, Kemp had a glorious season for the Dodgers that year. His 39 homeruns, 126 RBIs, 40 stolen bases, and slash line of .324/.399/.586 earned him many accolades such as All-Star, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, and second in M.V.P. voting. Dodger fans cheered as The Bison blasted homeruns and captained his team over 161 games. Sadly there would not be a repeat performance in 2012, and injuries began to mount for the center fielder. Almost two years later, Dodger fans are still waiting for the return of Beastmode and of their favorite Dodger.

Matt Kemp hurts his shoulder again.

Boos rang out across Dodger Stadium as Matt Kemp struggled to come back with little success after shoulder labrum surgery last fall. Baseball fans are very fickle, and the mounting losses during the first two months of the season essentially laid on the shoulders of Kemp the captain. Swinging out of tune, Kemp looked lost at the plate. Even in the field, Kemp’s mind was on his shoulder woes causing misplays to the dismay of the crowd. This was definitely not the confident Kemp we were used to, and we could see the frustration written across his face. Don Mattingly and the coaching staff said that his issues were essentially a mental block. Adrian Gonzalez even offered advice to Kemp telling him of his own journey back from shoulder surgery. Gonzo has often cited that he has lost power after his shoulder operation, and that it took awhile for him to regain form.

Both hamstrings were injured as well. Before the first hamstring injury suffered at Wrigley Field in 2012, Matt Kemp was healthy and strong enough to play almost every single game for the Dodgers from 2008-2011. They rushed him back to quickly, and he reinjured his hamstring causing him to miss a big chunk of the 2012 season. Then the fateful crash into the Coors Field wall would cause Matt Kemp to end his season due to the shoulder impact, and he would only end up playing in 106 games. The medical staff has not handled Matt Kemp’s injuries right from the get-go, and the most detrimental mistake was letting Kemp continue playing last season after hurting his shoulder. We probably will never know the extent of the additional damage sustained to his shoulder because of those extra games. Those extra games which were meaningless during a season which fell flat for the Dodgers in the end.

After succumbing to major surgery to repair his labrum and rotator cuff, Matt Kemp should have never been allowed to return to play come Opening Day 2013. The recovery time was not efficient enough for him to totally heal and feel confident with his shoulder strength. He wasn’t even allowed to swing a bat until January 2013, and he had limited use of weights until well into the season. While management and the coaches claimed his shoulder to be sound, it is pretty apparent that his shoulder has been bothering him this season. After grimacing with pain on an awkward swing this month, Kemp irritated the AC joint in his surgically repaired shoulder and was placed on the disabled list once again. It has been described as a “new injury” and unrelated to his surgically repaired portion of his shoulder. Regardless, it’s yet another injury and another setback for the Dodger slugger.

Kemp is expected to return from the disabled list on Sunday, July 21st, but these hampering injuries don’t give me

Jun 27, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp (right) is embraced by right fielder Yasiel Puig (66) after scoring in the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers defeated the Phillies 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

much confidence. Kemp was just starting to look like he was turning the corner and regaining his timing and classic Bison form when this new shoulder impairment went down. I’d like to hope that they aren’t rushing him back too soon, but with the second half about to get underway there’s not much more time to sit back and wait for Kemp to heal and figure things out. If he’s hurt, he should not be playing.

The Dodgers who now sit at 47-47 on the season going into the second half, would benefit greatly from a healthy Matt Kemp. Health will be the most important factor in the Dodgers quest for National League West domination. At 2 1/2 games back, they have a real shot to win the division. With a healthy Matt Kemp in the lineup alongside Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Andre Ethier, the Dodgers could really do some damage against their N.L. West foes. The talent is there, but will their hamstrings and shoulders hold up?

With Carl Crawford‘s constant rustiness, Matt Kemp will be needed to inject some vitality and speed into the lineup. I sure do miss watching Kemp stampede along the base paths. An able-bodied Matt Kemp would add that extra dimension to this team which could catapult them ahead of Arizona. We have not seen the projected starting lineup actually start a game together this entire season. It is actually quite amazing that the Dodgers will begin the second half at an even .500 after all the decimating injuries this season.

It’s been melancholy to see Matt Kemp on television ads and on the package of chewing gum when we have only been able to watch the team captain play in 61 games this season. We have only 4 Bison Blasts on the season, and the only highlight clips of the center fielder seem to be of when he crashed into the Coors Field wall or when he grabbed his shoulder in pain. It is unclear whether the 28-year old will ever be able to hit as many homeruns as he did in 2011 again, but Dodger fans are hoping that Kemp can smack a few over the fence in August, September, and October this year. The Dodgers might be able to win without Matt Kemp, but the Dodgers can win it all with him.