Matt Kemp on chemistry, losing weight, and expectations

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The Dodgers center fielder talked about returning from shoulder surgery, the weight of expectations, and team chemistry on Friday, the reporting date for position players at Camelback Ranch.

Many position players arrived at Camelback Ranch on Friday, the reporting date for Dodgers camp. But Matt Kemp has been in camp for well over a week, and on Friday opened up to reporters about one simple goal he had for the 2013 season.

"I'm not worried about numbers. As long as I stay on the field, the numbers should be there," Kemp said. "I just want to stay healthy, that's it."

Kemp had trouble staying healthy in 2012, when a pair of left hamstring strains derailed a great start. He missed 51 of 53 games in a stretch just before the All-Star break, then in late August injured his left shoulder colliding with the center field wall at Coors Field. Sapped of his power for most of the rest of the season, Kemp had surgery to repair a tear in his left shoulder on Oct. 5.

"I'm right back to where I need to be. I feel good. I'm playing center field. I can't go out there and be all heavy, trying to run around and make plays like Mike Trout. I have to be light to do things like that."

Kemp said he started last season at 220 pounds, and is down to 213 right now. He was at 208 pounds in 2011, when he had one of the greatest seasons ever for a Dodgers position player. Kemp hit .324/.399/.586 that season, with 39 home runs, 40 stolen bases, and finished second to Ryan Braun in the National League MVP race.

"I feel like I have more power when I'm lighter. I think that's where some people mess up. Some people tend to try to gain weight so they can have more power, but that's not the case," Kemp said. "I hit the most home runs at my lightest weight ever. Everything is a little more free and working the way you want it to work. I like lighter; the lighter, the better."

Kemp hit 12 home runs in his first 23 games last season, but hit just 11 over the final 83 contests.

"Those are frustrating times when you're out there hurt, and the pitcher might throw a pitch you normally can crush, and you aren't getting to those pitches the way you normally should be able to. It's kind of like your gifts are taken away from you until you get healthy again," he said. "You have injuries in this game. It's just a way of getting through them and trying to be successful."

We really don't care about what people say or how they feel. We have a great team, with all the pieces we need to be successful. We have pitching, we have a bullpen, we have hitters, we have it all, so there's going to be no excuses on if we do lose. But if everybody does their job, then we're going to be very successful. -Matt Kemp

Surgery for Kemp meant he couldn't do much until January, and he enters spring training still playing catch-up. He said he doesn't plan to rush back, at least during spring training.

"I'm not trying to be out there for the first game (on Feb. 23 against the White Sox). We're definitely going to take it one day at a time. We're not in a rush. We have a long spring training," Kemp said. "I've only taken BP on the field three times, so I need to get on the field and hit some more and feel comfortable."

Kemp has a different date in mind when thinking about his ultimate return.

"Spring training is to get ready for the season," Kemp said. "My main concern is being ready for opening day — which I will be — and to be healthy and ready to go."

Opening day for the Dodgers is Apr. 1 at Dodger Stadium against the Giants, winners of two of the last three World Series. Employers of a first baseman, Brandon Belt (the mention of whom spawned an eye roll from Kemp), who said the Dodgers couldn't buy chemistry. Kemp was amused by the comments from Belt.

"If I was a World Series champ, I wouldn't be saying anything about anybody's team," Kemp said. "I don't have to say anything. I'm a World Series champ."

Kemp said he liked the moves made by the team, and who wouldn't with a payroll north of $230 million? He said a full spring training together will help the team gel.

"I can already tell with the people we have here that the chemistry is going to be good. We built chemistry at the end of the year last year, with everything working the way we wanted it to work. We really don't care about what people say or how they feel," Kemp said. "We have a great team, with all the pieces we need to be successful. We have pitching, we have a bullpen, we have hitters, we have it all, so there's going to be no excuses on if we do lose. But if everybody does their job, then we're going to be very successful."

As far as the chicken-egg relationship of chemistry and winning, Kemp also weighed in.

"Chemistry comes from playing with one another. You don't have to like everybody on the team, as long as everyone has that one common goal of winning baseball games, that's all that matters," Kemp said. "As long as you're winning, the chemistry is going to be there."

The Dodgers will hold their first full squad workout on Saturday morning.

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