Matt Kemp cleared for next phase of rehabilitation

Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp smiles during batting practice at the team's spring-training facility in Glendale, Ariz., on Tuesday. Kemp hopes to see some playing time in Cactus League play before the regular season begins.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

PHOENIX — Matt Kemp didn’t run particularly fast or long Saturday, but that didn’t matter to him.

For the first time since he underwent an ankle operation four months ago, Kemp ran on something other than the anti-gravity treadmill.

“I never thought running would be so fun,” he said with a smile.


The former All-Star was cleared to enter the next phase of his rehabilitation by his surgeon, who reviewed the results of a routine MRI exam Kemp underwent two days earlier.

Kemp is hopeful he can play in the Cactus League, but in reality still has no idea when he’ll be in a competitive game. He doesn’t even know when he’ll be able to run the bases. The team’s medical staff has told him he’s in the fifth stage of a seven-step program, but Kemp can’t describe phases six and seven.

“Your guess is better than mine,” he said, laughing.

Kemp understands why the Dodgers are taking a cautious approach with him. His operation was to repair one of the major weight-bearing bones in his ankle. If he damages his talus bone again, he could develop chronic ankle problems.

“You don’t want to get ahead of yourself,” he said. “Sometimes you get too happy and you want to try to do more. I just want to have faith in the program and do everything they ask me to do and not anything extra. Of course, I would love to work out extra and run extra, but that’s not in the plans.”

But as he exercises caution, he’ll also have to overcome his fears.

“I have to be right with myself and make sure I’m able to do a first-to-third or be able to score on a base hit from second base,” he said. “I don’t want to have any negative thoughts in my head. I want to be able to go out there and play aggressive and steal bases when I can and do some of those athletic things that everybody is used to me doing.”

Kemp said it’s been difficult being on a different workout program from his teammates. While the other outfielders have been taking fly balls, Kemp has been off to the side alone, fielding grounders hit to him by first base coach Davey Lopes.

“Honestly, I feel I can go out there and do some of the things they are doing,” Kemp said. “But, like I said, it’s a process and you have to take it step by step. I’m not at that phase where I can turn and sprint back on balls. I think I could, but you have to take your time with this thing because you don’t know what would happen.”

He is confident he’ll be game-ready soon after he can run at full speed again.

Kemp, who underwent a minor procedure to clean up his left shoulder, has been on a regular hitting program.

“The only obstacle I have to overcome is the running part,” he said. “Everything else is good. Shoulder is good. I feel really strong and confident that I’ll be able to drive the ball and do some of the things I wasn’t able to do last year because my shoulder was bothering me.”

Twitter: @dylanohernandez