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Matt Kemp powers Dodgers past Rockies, 11-3

Dodgers right fielder Matt Kemp, right, celebrates with teammate Yasiel Puig after hitting a two-run home run during the first inning of an 11-3 win over the Colorado Rockies on Monday.
(Jack Dempsey / Associated Press)
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In Matt Kemp’s recent visits to Coors Field, fans have reminded the former All-Star about the time he wrecked his left shoulder here.

“Be careful of the wall,” spectators have screamed at him.

Two years removed from a head-on crash into the outfield wall that reshaped his career, Kemp laughed as he recalled the taunts he has heard here.

Why not laugh?

His surgically repaired shoulder is starting to feel like it did when he was considered the best all-around player in the game. And as the Dodgers close in on their second consecutive National League West title, Kemp is hitting home runs again.

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In an 11-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies that extended the Dodgers’ lead over the second-place San Francisco Giants to four games, Kemp launched his 21st home run of the season, a two-run blast in the first inning that sailed over the fence in right-center field.

Kemp has hit 13 home runs in his last 44 games, including one in each of his last two.

“I’m not exactly where I want to be, but it’s coming,” he said. “It just takes time.”

Kemp leaned back in his chair and smiled.

“It’s been a tough two years, man,” Kemp said.

He was seated where he was two years earlier, when speaking to reporters for the first time after running into the center-field wall at full speed.

A lot has changed since then.

He has changed positions, from center field to left, from left field to right. He has also made it a point to be more mindful of where he is when playing defense.

“As I’m getting older, I have to be more careful and smarter and make better decisions,” he said. “I know that a wall is always going to be there and I’m not going to be able to run into a wall and knock it down. It’s in the ground, it’s in there. Sometimes making a good catch into a wall can cause you to miss a lot of games or a whole season. I’m not saying I’m not going to give it 100%, but I’m going to be smart, when I can get to a ball and when I can’t get to a ball.”

Kemp doesn’t want to sit out any more games.

He was limited to 106 games in the 2012 season, after which he underwent a major shoulder operation for a torn labrum.

He played in only 73 games last year, as he was sidelined by problems with his shoulder, hamstring and ankle. When he was on the field, he played with a tight shoulder that limited his range of motion. He finished the season with only six home runs.

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He underwent two operations over the off-season: a minor procedure to clean up his shoulder and a major one to repair an ankle.

Still recovering from the ankle operation, Kemp spent the first five games of the season on the disabled list. But since his return, he has been healthy.

“I’m just happy I’m back and have been able to play the whole year,” he said. “You don’t know going into the season, coming off a serious surgery, how your body’s going to respond. I feel it’s responded.”

Well enough for him to be batting cleanup for a first-place team.

As well as Kemp has played, he thinks he can do more. The upcoming winter will be his first normal off-season in three years. He plans to resume training the way he did before he was injured.

“This is definitely going to be one of my most important off-seasons to bounce back and get my strength all the way back and my ankle and my legs and just be able to have a regular off-season to where I can get on the track and some of the stuff I’ve done in my previous years,” he said.

Again, Kemp smiled.

But not everything on this day was light-hearted.

In the middle of the Dodgers’ eight-run sixth inning, Kemp appeared to be arguing with Yasiel Puig.

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Asked about the incident, Kemp replied, “A good game we played today, huh?”

Puig and Manager Don Mattingly also woudn’t say what happened.

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