Matt Kemp wants to return when 100%

Harry How

Kemp is returning from offseason surgeries on both his left shoulder and left ankle.

LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kemp is anxious to return to the baseball field, but after two injury-plagued seasons his preferred course of action is prudence. Returning from a pair of offseason surgeries, the Dodgers outfielder likely won't be ready for the two games in Australia on March 22-23, with opening day or early April a more probable scenario.

"I'm on my own program [in spring training]. I'm not in a rush. I just want to be 100%," Kemp told reporters at Dodger Stadium on Saturday during FanFest. "When I'm 100% I'll start playing."

Kemp had surgery to clean up the A-C joint in his left shoulder in October, an injury that sapped most of his power in 2013, limiting him to six home runs and hitting just .270/.328/.395 in 73 games. Kemp has been able to lift weights this offseason, something he wasn't able to do after shoulder surgery after 2012.

The shoulder, Kemp says, feels great. The left ankle, the swelling in which knocked Kemp out of postseason play and from which he had surgery to remove torn cartilage in October, is still a work in progress. Kemp isn't able to run yet other than on a specialized treadmill to simulate running without the impact on the ankle.

As of now there is no official timetable for Kemp's return, other than that he needs to be 100%.

"We don't know enough right now to know, but we know he's progressing and has had no setbacks," general manager Ned Colletti said on Saturday.

Whether it's on March 22 in Australia, March 30 in San Diego, or a week or two after that, the team wants Kemp to be fully ready before his return to the field.

"We want to be careful. I don't think anybody wants to rush Matt on to the field unless he's totally ready," manager Don Mattingly said. "The main thing is, once he starts he can continue, and not have to play two games then have a day off."

Kemp had three different stints on the disabled list in 2013 and has missed 145 of the Dodgers' last 290 games - exactly half.

"I rushed back a little bit too fast last year. I love playing and I hate sitting and watching my team play." Kemp admitted on Saturday. "I don't want to come back at 80% and get hurt again, then come back at 90%. I just want to be at 100% the whole year, and I want to give everyone what I can with a full year of being healthy."

Kemp sounds on board with the planned patience, but what's to stop him from rushing his comeback again in 2014 in an attempt to get back on the field?

Mattingly doesn't think that will be the case, and the Kemp he'll get back when ready will be a motivated one.

"When you have injuries over a couple of years, you get tired of not being out there. I think he'll make sure he's ready," Mattingly said. "It's no fun. People start to doubt you because you're not on the field, and they kind of forget. Two years ago, Matt's the greatest thing on the planet, and now he's had two years of being basically hurt. All of a sudden, everybody wants to doubt Matt.

"I know what's there. I know the talent's there."

"I don't want to come back at 80% and get hurt again, then come back at 90%. I just want to be at 100% the whole year." -Matt Kemp

Kemp hit .324/.399/.586 with 39 home runs and 40 stolen bases in 2011, finishing second in National League MVP voting to Ryan Braun of the Brewers. He followed that by hitting .417/.490/.893 with a Dodgers record 12 home runs in April 2012, but since then has hit .271/.323/.443 with 17 home runs in 156 games since.

Kemp, 29, was asked if he still considered himself one of the best players in the game.

"Of course I do. I never thought I wasn't one of the best players in the game," Kemp said. "I work hard and I love this game, and have had a little bit of success."

Once he is healthy enough to play, Kemp plans to be an everyday player. If he's the Kemp of old that shouldn't be a problem, but with Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford also vying for playing time it could be an issue.

"I'm an everyday player, I play every day. I really don't want to talk about that because I'm trying to play every day," Kemp said about the Dodgers' four-outfielder situation. "I'm not trying to get days off."

The Dodgers had those four healthy outfielders for all of two games in 2013 - July 5 in San Francisco and July 21 in Colorado - and Kemp got hurt in both games. It's an issue that Mattingly recognizes but will deal with it when the time comes.

"I'm glad he wants to play every day. We'll see where we're at. We talked a lot last year about the four outfielders and I never really had to worry about it," Mattingly said. "We'll see."

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