Do not tell Matt Kemp that he is the fourth outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He does not want to be relegated to that status.
Kemp is recovering from offseason ankle surgery and manager Don Mattingly is not counting on Kemp being ready when the Dodgers travel to Australia for their season opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks on March 22. According to reports, Kemp has not started running on the ankle.
That leaves the Dodgers with three healthy outfielders -- Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig -- who are more than capable and could push Kemp into a bench role this season even after he is healed and ready to play.
With a contract that runs through the 2019 season, Kemp could become trade fodder depending on how the season shapes up.
"I don't know where you get this fourth outfielder talk from, man," Kemp said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "You all love talking about four outfielders, man. That's like the question of the day every day. I think all four of us outfielders feel the same way. None of us are fourth outfielders. Everybody wants to play every day. I won't accept that role. I can't accept that role."
Kemp has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons, missing 145 games with injuries to his hamstring, knee, shoulder and ankle.
After a National League MVP season in 2011, the 29-year-old Kemp slumped at the plate, batting .270 with six home runs and 33 RBIs in 71 games last year. Those numbers are a sharp contrast to the MVP year when Kemp hit 39 homers with 126 RBIs and 40 stolen bases and batted .324 in 161 games.
The Dodgers began team workouts on Friday and Kemp is able to hit without being ready to run on the ankle. He said his left shoulder, which bothered him last year after major surgery, feels better after a cleanup surgical procedure in the fall.
"I couldn't really get to the ball," he said. "I was cutting my swing off. I couldn't get extension."