LOS ANGELES — Something didn’t look right, not when Matt Kemp hobbled on crutches to the Dodger Stadium infield Sunday afternoon to join his teammates for a postgame pep rally.
Then came the worst possible news for the Dodgers: Kemp is done for the season.
An MRI scan taken before the Dodgers played their final regular-season game showed that Kemp, who had returned to the lineup only 13 days ago, has swelling in a weight-bearing bone in his left ankle. The only thing that will cure it is rest, and lots of it.
That means he won’t be in the lineup when the Dodgers begin their postseason run Thursday in Atlanta for the National League Division Series. The Dodgers also aren’t sure whether Andre Ethier, who is recovering from an ankle injury, will be available, either.
“At this point, there’s nothing to do about it besides move on,” said manager Don Mattingly, who didn’t learn about Kemp until after the Dodgers’ 2-1 defeat to the Colorado Rockies. “I don’t think anybody in that room is willing to give this thing up because Matt is hurt. And to be honest with you, without saying it in a bad way, we played all year long without Matt. We went 42-8 without Matt.
“We’re capable of winning. We’re not going to roll over and act like something’s wrong now. Obviously, we’re not going to be full strength. If you don’t have Andre and don’t have Matt, you’re not as good as you could be. But we’re still good enough to win.”
They’ll find out for sure beginning Thursday in Atlanta, where they face a Braves team that captured the National League East and won five of seven head-to-head meetings with the Dodgers.
Kemp, who hit .314 in 11 games this month after returning from a sprained left ankle and a sore hamstring, played in only 73 games and had three stints on the disabled list. He appeared mostly recovered in his latest comeback, although he was not running the bases at full speed, something Mattingly acknowledged.
Even so, with Ethier uncertain for the playoffs, the hope was that Kemp would be fit enough to play center field on an everyday basis.
“That’s the most frustrating thing, that I worked hard to get where I needed to be and help the team win,” Kemp said. “It’s like a bad nightmare. It’s injury after injury after injury after injury. I mean, honestly, I don’t know what to say anymore except that the season’s over with for me. I have to be that cheerleader or be that leader on the bench to help those guys get through the tough games they’re going to play.”
The Dodgers survived nicely without Kemp, who missed most of the team’s amazing run from a 30-42 record on July 21 to 83-55 on Sept. 3. But Ethier stepped in ably to play center, and rookie Yasiel Puig turned out to be a catalyst after joining the team in early June.
But no Kemp means the Dodgers will be missing their No. 3 hitter and the league’s MVP runner-up in 2011.
“We’re gonna miss him,” shortstop Hanley Ramirez said. “He’s part of our team. But at the same time, we’ve got to keep going. He’s real sad. He looked like he was going to cry. He loves this game so much.
“It’s not going to be easy for him, but at the same time, we’ve got to go to Atlanta and take care of business.”
Kemp reported an inability to get his ankle loose on Saturday and was scratched from the starting lineup. An X-ray on Sunday morning looked good, but team physician Neal ElAttrache said an MRI revealed swelling in a major weight-bearing bone in the ankle.
“Since that’s an area that can be vulnerable with impact and injury, we have to protect Matt,” ElAttrache said. “That could lead to further injury. It indicates a weakness in the bone where it’s swollen, and we need to protect his weight bearing to prevent developing a true facture of the talus (bone).”
ElAttrache said Kemp will need to avoid putting weight on his ankle for at least a month but that the recovery would carry into the offseason.
So what will the Dodgers do? If Ethier still isn’t able to run the bases when he joins the team for a workout at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, Mattingly indicated that veteran Skip Schumaker will probably start in center. Puig is also an option, but his defensive play at the position hasn’t been impressive.
The Dodgers don’t seem to be holding out hope that Ethier will suddenly be ready to start on Thursday. At most, he could be used at a pinch-hitter.
“Either he’s ready or he’s not,” Mattingly said. “If he can’t run, he can’t play. It’s really not that complicated.”
Kemp visited with several teammates before leaving the clubhouse, stopping by lockers to accept good wishes. But there’s little doubt that his difficult season had hit rock bottom – and now it’s over.
“Two or three days ago, I wasn’t necessarily feeling myself but I felt really, really good,” he said. “I was excited. I felt good at the plate. I was having good at-bats. I was getting that swag back that everybody needs to go out there and perform. Now a day later, they’re telling me I can’t play anymore. It’s tough.”