Kemp delivers in return from DL, exits with injury
Outfielder triple shy of cycle; Dodgers believe slide results in just a sprain of ankle
WASHINGTON -- The Dodgers activated center fielder Matt Kemp from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday, and although he injured his left ankle in the ninth inning of a 9-2 victory over the Nationals, he is not expected to need a return trip to the DL.
Kemp enjoyed a 3-for-4 afternoon that included a home run, a double and three RBIs. He walked in his final plate appearance in the ninth and was on third base when Carl Crawford hit a bases-loaded grounder toward first. Assuming that the play would be at first, Kemp didn't run hard initially. When Chad Tracy fired toward the plate, Kemp had to slide awkwardly into catcher Kurt Suzuki on the forceout.
Kemp hobbled off the field and was replaced by Yasiel Puig. The Dodgers' training staff quickly iced the ankle, and although Kemp experienced some swelling, the injury is only believed to be a sprain. No X-rays were taken, and neither manager Don Mattingly nor Kemp anticipated a DL stint.
"It's just a little swollen," Kemp said. "It's not that bad. I started walking around a little bit, and it started feeling a little better, so tomorrow we'll see what it feels like."
Kemp will have to see if the ankle swells more overnight. The Dodgers will evaluate him on Monday before deciding on his availability for their series opener against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
More than the injury itself, Kemp was frustrated with his mental error on the play.
"It's my fault. I wasn't running hard," he said. "That's an easy hit for CC [Crawford]. I took a hit away from CC. CC has every right to be mad at me, because that was my fault. The results of me not running hard to home plate, I kind of tweaked my ankle a little bit. I'm more disappointed I wasn't running hard like I should have been."
Before the injury, the day went about as well as possible for Kemp, who had been sidelined since injuring the AC joint in his left shoulder while taking a swing on July 5 in San Francisco. He missed 11 games in his second DL stint of the season, following a 24-game absence for a right hamstring strain.
Kemp entered Sunday hitting .254 with four home runs, 24 RBIs and a .666 OPS in 61 games this season, but he went 2-for-5 with a home run against the Rockies in each of his last two starts before the latest injury. He picked up right where he left off, crushing a home run against the Nationals' Jordan Zimmermann in his first at-bat -- sparking a seven-run second inning -- and going on to finish a triple short of the cycle.
"It felt good to get back out there and play again," Kemp said. "I'm always off and on -- sit some games, play some games -- but it is what it is."
Mattingly said before the game that the two-time All-Star should be able to play every day. Kemp did not go on a Minor League rehabilitation assignment, but looked good in simulated games against Dodgers left-hander Ted Lilly on Friday and Saturday.
"We're not really that concerned," Mattingly said before the game. "Two days in a row he takes swings, takes BP, takes live swings, so I feel pretty good about it. That being said, I still want to use all our guys and put the best lineup out there."
Once Kemp's ankle heals, Mattingly will have four healthy, starting-caliber outfielders for three spots, although that wouldn't be a problem in Toronto, where he can use a designated hitter. On Sunday, Mattingly sat the struggling Puig to get Kemp in the lineup.
Even before Kemp's three-hit performance, Mattingly expressed his high expectations, despite the fact that shoulder problems can be a difficult thing to overcome, sapping explosiveness and power long after a player is healthy enough to get back on the field.
"I think he can do what we saw in Colorado, him starting to get his swing back together," Mattingly said. "That's kind of what I expect, not necessarily a home run every day, but I expect him to be himself."
To make room for Kemp on the 25-man roster, the Dodgers optioned outfielder Scott Van Slyke to Triple-A Albuquerque before the game.