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!
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.
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.