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Matt Kemp's shoulder is one issue for Dodgers in off-season

Center fielder will have arthroscopic surgery Friday for a damaged labrum, and Chad Billingsley's elbow and the state of the bullpen are among the team's concerns.

October 03, 2012|By Dylan Hernandez

Matt Kemp will wake up from surgery Friday and learn whether his shoulder issues are something he will have to deal with heading into next season.

The gravity of the arthroscopic procedure won't be known until Dr. Neal ElAttrache looks into his shoulder.

If the damage to the labrum in Kemp's left shoulder is minor, ElAttrache will clean it up and Kemp will be able to resume baseball activities in four to six weeks. If the damage is more extensive, Kemp could be sidelined for four months.

"This is humbling," Kemp said, "but, unfortunately, it's something that has to be done."

Kemp's importance to the Dodgers was evident this season, even after they added All-Star-caliber players such as Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez to their lineup. The Dodgers continue to view Kemp as the centerpiece of their lineup and leader of their clubhouse, and there's no reason to believe that will change next season.

"Hopefully, it is a cleanup so he cannot have to worry about being ready for the season," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez had those concerns leading up to the 2011 season. That winter, the left-handed-hitting first baseman had the labrum on his right shoulder repaired.

"You just have to trust it, take it slow and not try to get back at a certain time," Gonzalez said. "The doctor said four months before I could get in a game, so I didn't try to do anything before that."

Gonzalez was limited to 11 games in spring training, his first with the Boston Red Sox.

"I didn't have a lot of power in April, but I got hits and everything," Gonzalez said. "Once May rolled around, I felt pretty good."

Kemp's health could determine whether the Dodgers are a solid offensive team in 2013 or a great one.

Gonzalez, Ramirez and Andre Ethier will be back. Former All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford, who came from the Boston Red Sox as part of a four-player package that included Gonzalez, is expected to return from reconstructive elbow surgery.

"We have a group of guys that are all in the same age range, in the middle of our careers, that can make a lot of really great things happen," Gonzalez said. "Next year, we'll be together a full year. I think this team can really, really do something special."

They nearly did something special this season, finishing two games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for the second of two National League wild-card spots.

Kemp finished his injury-plagued season batting .303 with 23 home runs and 69 runs batted in in 106 games. He acknowledged that he sometimes asked himself, what if?

What if he hadn't sat out 51 games because of a strained left hamstring? What if he hadn't crashed into the wall in Colorado last month and bruised his left shoulder?

"I saw some number, where we lost 26 one-run games," Kemp said. "I probably could have driven in some runs in those 26 one-run games."

The number was, in fact, 27. Had the Dodgers won three of them, they would be playing in the wild-card game in Atlanta on Friday.

While admitting he was nervous about his upcoming operation, Kemp remained as bold as ever.

"I'll be even better than I was this year for next year," he said.

Also in limbo at this time is Chad Billingsley.

Billingsley is taking part in a throwing program designed to test the partially torn elbow ligament that forced him to sit out the final month of the season.

In the next month or so, Billingsley will be told by the team's medical staff whether he needs reconstructive elbow surgery. If he does, he will sit out the 2013 season.

Regardless of what happens to Billingsley this winter, the Dodgers are expected to pursue a top-line pitcher to complement ace Clayton Kershaw.

There will be only one such pitcher on the free-agent market this off-season, Zack Greinke, and he will probably receive a nine-figure contract. With team Chairman Mark Walter recently hinting the Dodgers might be reluctant to make a long-term commitment to a pitcher, they could be more likely to add a reinforcement via a trade.

Aside from Kershaw and Billingsley, the Dodgers have four pitchers under contract for next season: Josh Beckett, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly. At least one of them figures to be traded in the off-season.

The bullpen could also have to be reconstructed.

Brandon League, who finished the season as the team's closer, will be a free agent.

Setup man Ronald Belisario posted a 2.54 earned-run average in a team-leading 68 appearances, but is notoriously unreliable. Belisario has a history of showing up late to spring training, if at all. He sat out last season because of visa problems resulting from a positive cocaine test.

Left-hander Scott Elbert is recovering from a minor elbow operation. Right-hander Javy Guerra, who started the season as the closer, suffered a season-ending side muscle injury and loss of form.

And Kenley Jansen, who was the closer for the majority of the season, will have a heart operation. The procedure is intended to correct a problem that resulted in an irregular heartbeat that sidelined him for three weeks.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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