When the Dodgers open the playoffs in Atlanta on Thursday, center fielder Matt Kemp will be on crutches. If they reach the World Series, he’ll be limited to waving a towel in the dugout.
Kemp’s injury-plagued season came to an abrupt end Sunday when a MRI exam revealed a major weight-bearing bone in the two-time All-Star’s left ankle was swollen.
Kemp wanted to continue playing, but the Dodgers’ medical staff told him he couldn’t. If he did, the talus bone could break, which could leave him with chronic ankle problems for the remainder of his career.
“We have to protect Matt,” team physician Neal ElAttrache said.
Only a couple of weeks ago, the Dodgers looked as if they could head into the playoffs with a surplus of star outfielders. Now, in the wake of a 2-1 defeat to the Colorado Rockies in their regular-season finale at Dodger Stadium, they might not have enough. Andre Ethier, who played center field in place of Kemp for most of the season, has shin splints and also might be unavailable.
For Game 1 of a National League division series with the Braves, the starting center fielder for the most expensive team in baseball history could be veteran utilityman Skip Schumaker.
“If we don’t have Matt and we don’t have Andre, you’re not as good as you can be,” Manager Don Mattingly said. “We’re still good enough to win.”
Mattingly pointed to how the Dodgers played the majority of their 92-victory season without Kemp. When the Dodgers played their best, such as when they won 42 times in a 50-game stretch, Kemp was on the disabled list
Kemp was on the disabled list three times this season, costing him 88 games.
He strained his right hamstring in late May. He irritated his surgically repaired left shoulder in early July. He sprained his left ankle in a plate collision in Washington on July 22.
That ankle injury kept him out until Sept. 16. And that was the same ankle that felt stiff when Kemp woke up Saturday. Kemp was scratched from the lineup that day.
With the ankle still feeling stiff Sunday morning, Kemp had an X-ray that revealed no damage. As a precaution, he underwent an MRI exam.
Kemp was in disbelief when told he couldn’t play again.
“It’s weird to me because I was playing and everything felt good,” Kemp said. “I didn’t twist my ankle or anything during the game. Just crazy. Really crazy.”
In the 11 games he played since returning from his latest stint on the disabled list, Kemp batted .314 with a home run and six runs batted in.
“It’s like a bad nightmare, injury after injury after injury after injury,” Kemp said. “It’s very disappointing. I worked hard to get back. Felt really good at the plate. I really felt I could help this team win.”
Kemp will be on crutches for a month. ElAttrache said he expects Kemp’s ankle to heal. If it doesn’t, he could be forced to have an operation.
The surgery would be the second of the off-season for Kemp, who is scheduled for an arthroscopic procedure to clean up a joint in his left shoulder.
“It’s going to be a busy off-season,” Kemp said, shaking his head and laughing.
Kemp shook his head and laughed several times as he talked.
Behind the smile was considerable pain, according to teammate Hanley Ramirez.
“He’s pretty upset,” Ramirez said. “He looked like he was going to cry. I know he loves this game so much.”
Kemp said he would travel with his teammates during the playoffs.
“I’ll be there cheerleading like I have been the whole year,” he said. “I’ll be the loudest one on the bench, waving a towel.”
Kemp sounded confident the Dodgers would be fine without him.
“They’ve done pretty well without me,” he said. “I think they’re going to be OK. I feel like we have the best pitching going into all those games. I like our chances.”
Ethier has been hitting in simulated games in Arizona, but still hasn’t tested his left leg on the basepaths. He is scheduled to return to Los Angeles on Monday and work out with the Dodgers on Tuesday.
If Ethier is still in pain, he will be relegated to pinch-hitting or left off the 25-man playoff roster. That would force the Dodgers to start Schumaker in center field.
Schumaker batted .263 with two home runs and 30 RBIs in 125 games. He was the starting center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals in Games 5, 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series, which they won.
“This guy was a starting center fielder in Game 7 of a World Series before,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. “He’s not going to be overwhelmed by the situation. He’s a world champion player. He’s somebody we’re all going to lean on for experience as we go on this run.”