LOS ANGELES — Despite a rehabilitation assignment in the minor leagues that yielded awful results, Matt Kemp was activated from the disabled list on Tuesday and was back in the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Dodgers. To make room on the 25-man roster, the team sent utility player Elian Herrera to Triple-A Albuquerque.
Whether he’ll be the Kemp who struggled for the first two months of the season or the Kemp who is still considered one of the National League’s most dangerous hitter is something both he and the Dodgers are anxious to find out.
If nothing else, the center fielder considers his return a fresh start.
“For me it is,” he said. “I didn’t do too well the first month, month and a half of the season. For me, this is a new season, a new Matt. I just want to go out there and do whatever I can to contribute and help this team get going again.”
Kemp went on the DL on May 30 with a mild strain in his right hamstring, but it was seen as a welcome respite after he began the season hitting just .251 with two home runs and 17 RBI in 191 at-bats. But he has steadfastly refused to blame his troubles on the surgery he underwent on his left shoulder after last season.
“My shoulder is fine,” he said after an early batting-practice session. “I promise you that. There’s nothing wrong with it. No more questions about my shoulder. My shoulder’s good, my hamstrings are good. Now it’s time to start hitting again.”
On Monday, manager Don Mattingly suggested that Kemp might need more rehab games, a reasonable assumption after he went just 2 for 11 with six strikeouts in three games at Triple-A Albuquerque. But Kemp offered a convincing argument that he preferred to get back on the major league roster.
“Matt was really wanting to be back and be a part of this,” Mattingly said. “We had a pretty good discussion about it, making sure he was 100 percent and ready to turn it loose as far as hitting. He was basically saying nothing was going on with his shoulder, nothing was going on with his legs. He said he feels like he’s 100 percent and ready to roll.”
The Dodgers began the night looking for their season-high fourth consecutive win. They beat the San Francisco Giants on Monday night, breaking a five-game losing streak vs. their rival. Kemp’s return marked the first time he was in the same lineup this season with shortstop Hanley Ramirez and rookie Yasiel Puig, who was called up four days after Kemp was disabled.
“We’ve got just about everybody in the lineup,” Kemp said. “This is my first time playing with Hanley. Hopefully, we can all get on the same page and feed off of each other. Hanley’s swinging the bat really good, Puig’s doing an unbelievable job, and I’m just trying to come in here and do whatever I can to help them win games.”
With Kemp returning to center field and hitting fifth, Mattingly moved Andre Ethier from center back to his familiar spot in right. Puig started in left, a defensive position he hasn’t played this season but played in spring training.
Mattingly indicated he intends to swing Puig between left and right and said he could also use Ethier in left or right. Left fielder Carl Crawford is still on the disabled list with a hamstring injury and could return at some point on the next road trip, which begins next Tuesday in Colorado.
Mattingly said of Puig, “I think he can do anything in the outfield, honestly.”