Matt Kemp‘s MRI came back positive, he’s back running around again, and Mark McGwire is singing praises about his swing returning. Nobody wants to go all-in on all of this hype more than me, but I also can’t help but think cautiously.
There was understandably lots of worry built up about Kemp’s recent MRI results, perhaps because we’ve been conditioned lately to expect the worse. So when all the positivity rolled in with reports that Kemp’s MRI indicated progress was being made, it was a pleasant surprise (via Dylan Hernandez). The best part came with reports that followed soon after though: he was running.
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.
I mentioned in the center field preview that my biggest concerns with Kemp were primarily about how he would handle the injury and whether he would end up playing differently. Well in stark contrast to last year, when he appeared to be in denial, this year he has adopted a new mentality and seems far more aware of the need for a slow and steady approach.
“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.”
So at the very least, he seems to know and share the concerns that are out there. And that alone is already a better start than he had in 2013.
Completing the recent optimism was an article by Buster Olney about the return of Kemp’s hitting prowess.
As Kemp finished his session and began collecting his bats, John Valentin — the Dodgers’ assistant hitting coach — walked over to where McGwire stood with a reporter and lifted his eyebrows as if to communicate “wow.”
“That was great,” Valentin said.
“Best I’ve seen,” McGwire responded.
Kemp, carrying his equipment, strolled over, smiling broadly. “That,” McGwire said to Kemp, “was awesome.”
“I told you, I’m a beast,” Kemp said. He looked at the reporter and pointed a finger — like a good-natured reminder — and said, “Don’t forget that.”
Since we probably needed more hope than his .319/.388/.556/.943 line in 80 PA down the stretch, there’s also acknowledgement here that his previous mechanics changed due to the injury, and that his swing has now been corrected since his shoulder has been getting healthier. All of this should make any Dodger fan smile, since a lineup with Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, and Hanley Ramirez will probably end well more times than not.
And yet, even with all the positives that have come out about Kemp and his potential rebound year in 2014, I still have to remind myself that all it takes is a roll of the ankle or a freak play and we’re back to hand-wringing over the career-threatening injury phase of the discussion.
It really is an unfortunate, delicate balance at the moment. And perhaps the worst part is that while we’d all like to know the answer to the Kemp question right away, it’s probably going to take months — if not years — to get the full perspective on what his future holds.