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Matt Kemp on track for Friday return to Dodgers

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

SAN DIEGO -- All signs point to Matt Kemp being activated for the Dodgers home opener on Friday against the Giants. The center fielder took extra batting practice on Monday in a simulated game against Josh Beckett at Petco Park, and manager Don Mattingly said it's unlikely Kemp would need to play in any minor league rehab games before getting activated from the disabled list.

"I don't know what [a rehab assignment] does for him at this point. He's been rehabbing all spring. He's had all kinds of at-bats, as many as any of our guys. At some point you've got to start," Mattingly said. "You can't just wait until he's hot in the minor leagues to say he's ready, because it still might not matter."

Kemp played in minor league games for nearly two weeks at Camelback Ranch in Arizona before joining the Dodgers in Los Angeles on Friday. After October ankle surgery, Kemp was able to gradually increase his baseball activities, with running and sliding the final stage of his rehabilitation.

"I just want to make sure that he feels he can go play. That's what we've always talked about," Mattingly said. "I want him to be able to feel like he can go steal a bag, or stop on a dime after a hard turn coming around third or coming around first, that he's ready to play baseball. He seems to think he is. He's on the right track."

By a very rough accounting of Kemp's minor league and instrasquad games during spring training, he was only 6-for-53 (.113) with a home run and a pair of doubles. But the results were of secondary importance to the condition of Kemp's ankle, which continued to improve through the process. Nor does Mattingly think a poor showing in practice at-bats will carry over into the regular season.

"It's like anyone else coming out of spring training. You never know how it's going to start," Mattingly said. "He's at a point where you've got to go out there. You've got to get major league pitching to see where you're at. There's a different intensity. He has to get over the anxiety of playing in front of people again. It's a little different. There will be an adjustment period."

That adjustment period will likely include an occasional day off for Kemp, who played in 399 consecutive games until sidelined by a hamstring injury in May 2012. Since the streak, Kemp by Friday will have played in less than half of the Dodgers games (145 of 295, 49.2%).

Kemp was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 19. The earliest he could be activated is technically Thursday, but the Dodgers are off that day. He said last Friday that he would be ready to play in the home opener, and though not yet official Mattingly seemed to agree.

"He doesn't want to go back out there before he's ready to play," Mattingly said. "He doesn't want to get embarrassed; he wants to do well, and I think he's ready to do well."