What aren’t they telling us about Matt Kemp?

I heard something shocking this past week – Matt Kemp was just “medically cleared” to start lifting weights. Really? How could that be? Isn’t he at full strength? Didn’t he insist that his shoulder was not a problem? This little nugget of information, however, sheds light on his recovery and why he may have returned too early.

Kemp had surgery to repair a torn labrum and minor damage to his rotator cuff – an injury he sustained colliding with the outfield wall last season. He had surgery in October and reported to spring training as the Dodgers cautiously eased him into the lineup.

I am a pitcher and had a similar surgery in December to repair a torn labrum in my throwing shoulder without rotator cuff damage. I started physical therapy about 1 month after surgery. After 6-7 weeks of physical therapy, I was told to start doing exercises with light weights and elastic bands at home. As well, I could start throwing lightly and swinging a bat. A month later (4 months after the surgery) I was allowed to employ heavier weights as long as everything felt fine, which it did. Now five months after the surgery I am playing first base and batting. I am about one month away from pitching at full strength with a limited pitch count. To add more context, I am certainly not young for baseball purposes at 44!

Working out with an elastic band is one of the very first strengthening exercises after shoulder surgery. (Video capture courtesy of ESPN.com)

Working out with elastic bands is one of the first strengthening exercises after shoulder surgery.
(Video capture courtesy of ESPN.com)

In comparison, Kemp has his surgery in October and he was just given medical clearance to lift weights in late May/early June – 8 months afterwards. It started me to thinking about Kemp’s rotator cuff repair. A rotator cuff injury is much more complex and the recovery more time-consuming. For athletic purposes, recovery can take up to a year. In comparison, the labrum repair is faster. The surgery needs to “set” in the first month while the arm and shoulder is immobilized in a sling. Mobility then needs to be reestablished with physical therapy, basically stretching the labrum again. The next step is adding strength that was lost by gradually increasing weight lifting and elastic band work.

If this was simply a labrum repair for Kemp, he would have been lifting regular weights in spring training in February/March. It is great news that he has been given the green light, but it leads me to doubt the level of strength in his shoulder for the first two months of the season. It also suggests that he is definitely not currently at full strength.

Power hitters need their full strength and timing to be successful. If Kemp was not at 100%, he could certainly have acquired some bad habits to compensate. His current swing looks very weak in comparison to that of early 2012. His signature opposite field home run has been reduced to an occasional single to right. He doesn’t have that same swagger and doesn’t look anything like the Matt Kemp we have seen over the past few years.

As far as his character is concerned, Kemp does not appear to be someone who complains about aches and pains. He is not someone who wants to sit in the dugout even if his production tumbles. Moreover, he appears to want to play through injuries as he did towards the end of last year. If you combine an early return from a more serious rotator cuff repair with a great desire to play, you have a logical reason for his decreased production this year as he modifies his swing to compensate for a lack of strength. He hears the boos and begins to press at the plate. Bad pitch selection then creeps in to compound the problem.

Swinging at bad pitches is the end result when trying to over compensate for lost power. (Photo credit - Ron Cervenka)

Swinging at bad pitches is the end result when pressing at the plate.
(Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

I have a feeling that the Dodgers want to give him time to refocus and rebuild his strength in a way that won’t embarrass him or seem too transparent. A hamstring pull would be a good excuse to put him on the DL. In any event, I think this it best way to give him an opportunity to regroup and get his swing back.

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10 Responses to “What aren’t they telling us about Matt Kemp?”

  1. Ron Cervenka says:

    A very interesting article, Robb; thanks. It is definitely an angle that I never even considered before.

    I have always felt that Kemp was withholding the truth about his recovery, not because he was trying to be deceptive but because he was trying to will himself back to 100% and ‘man-up’ instead of simply allowing it to happen.

    I, too, was quite surprised by last week’s announcement that Matt had been cleared to increase his weight training, thinking that based on what he has been saying all along that he was already there.

    I guess the thing that concerned me the most was when Dr. ElAttrache said immediately after Kemp’s surgery that the damage was far worse than he initially thought once he got in there. This should have been a red flag, but like everyone else, I bought into what Matt was telling us.

    Interestingly enough, on two separate occasions I asked Don Mattingly directly if Matt’s struggles might be medically related and even asked if they had considered giving him another MRI to make sure that they didn’t miss something. Both times Mattingly answered that Matt has said nothing to them about any complications. It almost sounded scripted, if you know what I mean.

    Regardless, as I noted in yesterday’s ‘dilemma’ article, this trip to the DL could be a blessing in disguise for Matt and the Dodgers, although I am certain that he doesn’t see it that way.

    Again, great article – thanks!

    • bigbluebird says:

      In the end, I think Dodger fans have to be very patient with Kemp. I hate to hear the boos because with him that is only going to make it worse as he presses at the plate. Both Gonzalez and Ramirez have stated that it takes a while for the power to return. Because of Kemp’s character I think it is not best to work through this playing because he gets very frustrated and that is when things seem to get worse for him. If I could guess, I would say that Kemp’s shoulder is just weak. If he is given the luxury of being able to increase his strength without the rigors of playing everyday with a rehab stint in the minors it is going to do him wonders.

  2. MFGRREP says:

    I’m thinking a trip to RC in a couple of weeks is in my future.

  3. KSparkuhl says:

    Good point Robb. That “medically cleared” thing just seemed to slip through the media unnoticed. I remember thinking “oh, he hasn’t been lifting yet?”

    We also have to remember that when Kemp hit that wall, he was going full speed into it. He had to have sustained a concussion of a varying degree of severity, which can also lead to more vision problems down the road.

    Combine everything together and we end up with a “perfect storm” of futility that Matt Kemp has had to endure up to this point.

  4. ebbetsfld says:

    I just hope Matt will not “man up” to his (and the team’s) detriment. While Matt at 75% is still a pretty good player, I’d rather have him at 100% and wait for him to get there than have him at 75% for the rest of the season, or worse for the rest of his career.

    • Ron Cervenka says:

      When you start adding up how many runners Kemp has stranded in RISP (and I haven’t), there are probably 8 or 10 wins that got away from the Dodgers. Granted, others have done so as well, but I’d be willing to bet that Matt leads the team because of his Ks and DPs.

      Get (100%) well soon, Matt – your team really needs you!

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