MIAMI — Fans of The Clash, The Bobby Fuller Four and the Cincinnati Reds can agree Matt Kemp had the quote of the year after he broke a rib chasing a flyball last April.
“I fought the wall, and the wall won,” Kemp said.
He broke a rib and missed the final five months of the season. Now, at 35, the three-time All-Star outfielder is mounting a comeback with the Miami Marlins.
Kemp waves off the idea Miami is where great outfielder careers come to die. Three-time All-Star Curtis Granderson batted .183 with the Marlins in his final season last year. Seven-time major league hits leader Ichiro Suzuki hit .256 in his final three full seasons with Miami in 2015-17.
“That’s not my story,” Kemp said. “I’m for real. I can still do some damage out there. This is a redemption year. I had 40 at-bats last year, but I was an All-Star in 2018. Seriously, I can still play.”
Kemp believes he's poised for a comeback that extends beyond 2020, and he wants to play at least four or five more years. But first, he has to make the Marlins — a team that won 57 games in 2019.
He signed a minor league contract in December, and if added to the 40-man roster would get a $2 million salary while in the major leagues. With newcomer Corey Dickerson expected to start in left field, Kemp will try to win a spot as a backup in the Marlins' congested but unsettled outfield.
“I'm at a point where I pretty much don’t have a say in my role,” Kemp said.
Which is exactly what the Marlins want to hear.
“Matt is in a great spot,” manager Don Mattingly said. “He knows where he’s at. That’s the key for a guy like Matt, where you’re not going to be playing six days a week, and understanding that’s the role we’re looking for.”
Kemp is glad to be reunited with Mattingly, his manager when both were with the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2011-14. Just two years ago, Kemp batted .290 with 25 homers for the Dodgers. But his playing time and productivity declined the second half of that year, and after he was traded to the Reds, his career literally hit a wall.
He immediately feared a serious injury.
“I thought I had broken my back,” he said.
It wasn't that bad, but the Reds released him last May. After he signed with the New York Mets, he played in eight games for their Triple-A team.
But the rib still bothered him, and he was done for the season.
“It just wasn’t feeling right,” he said.
Now, he said, he's healthy and looks it. He even had a stolen base in his first spring training game.
“If he can show us he has juice left in the tank, he's a guy who has always hit,” Mattingly said. “His foot speed is not quite what it used to be, but he's dangerous off the bench."
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