Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp reacts after striking out during a game… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
PHOENIX — While Matt Kemp rehabilitated his surgically repaired left shoulder, he has also been resculpting his body.
Walking around shirtless in the Dodgers clubhouse at spring training, Kemp is noticeably slimmer than he was a year ago.
"I'm going back to the little, lighter Matt," Kemp said.
That was the guy who hit a career-high 39 home runs in 2011 while stealing 40 bases, making a run at the triple crown and finishing second in voting for the National League most valuable player award. And, perhaps most importantly, the guy who played in every game that season.
Kemp said he weighs 213 pounds, which is about what he weighed when he reported to camp before the best year of his career.
He thought gaining weight would result in even more weighty accomplishments.
"I hit 39 home runs," he recalled thinking. "Maybe if I gain 10 pounds I can hit 10 more home runs."
Instead, Kemp hit the disabled list twice because of hamstring problems. Late in the season, he crashed into a wall in center field and sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder, which required off-season surgery.
Kemp said he is lighter, but not weaker. "I actually feel I have more power when I'm lighter," he said. "Everything's a little bit more free and working the way you want it to work."
Kemp, who stole only nine bases last season, said he intends to become a base-stealing threat again. He also thinks his lighter frame will allow him to better patrol center field.
Of course, he has to get back on the field first.
"Everything's strong," said Kemp, who has been hitting and throwing for about a month. "I've been working on my legs. Hamstrings are feeling good. Shoulder's feeling good. I'm just working on staying healthy this whole year and playing 162 games."
The Dodgers open their exhibition season Feb. 23, but Kemp isn't focused on returning to the field that day. "My main concern is being ready for opening day, which I will be," he said.
That is about as far as Kemp will go making predictions about himself. He's taking a more low-key approach than he did last year, when he said he expected to become the first player in baseball history to hit 50 home runs and steal 50 bases in the same season.
He now claims that forecast was a joke. "I'm not making any types of predictions," he said.
"That's not what you were telling me on the field earlier," Adrian Gonzalez called out from a couple of lockers away.
"He's a liar!" Kemp protested, laughing. "He's lying! No predictions!"
Others joined in, poking fun at Kemp.
Scenes like this have convinced Kemp that team chemistry won't be a problem for these Dodgers, who will field the most expensive opening-day roster in baseball history. "I can already tell with the people that we have here that the chemistry's going to be good," he said.
Kemp is particularly looking forward to playing alongside longtime friend Carl Crawford, whom the Dodgers acquired last season from the Boston Red Sox.
"Me and him, we already talked about what we're going to do, as far as communication in the outfield and things like that," Kemp said.
Kemp smiled when asked about San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt's recent remarks about the Dodgers. At the Giants' annual FanFest this month, Belt said, "All I can say is, you can't buy chemistry."
"I think we all saw those quotes," Kemp said. "We're going to worry about the Dodgers. I'm sure the Giants should worry about the Giants."
Kemp was puzzled why Belt would say anything like that.
"If I was a World Series champ, I wouldn't be saying anything about anybody's team …" Kemp said. "I don't have to say anything; I'm a World Series champ."