LOS ANGELES -- The only thing worse for Matt Kemp than undergoing left shoulder surgery on Oct. 5 was what doctors told him when he came out of it.
"When I hurt it, I asked the doctors if I could damage it more by playing with it and they said no, so I kept playing, and when they got in there they were surprised that I could play with it. It was worse than they thought," said Kemp in his first comments to the media since the operation.
Dr. Neal ElAttrache repaired a torn labrum and performed minor debridement of the rotator cuff in the one-hour arthroscopic procedure, the injury sustained when Kemp slammed into the center-field fence at Coors Field on Aug. 27.
After missing 51 games earlier in the season with a strained left hamstring, Kemp insisted on playing through the shoulder pain and finished the season in the lineup.
But as Kemp went, so did the Dodgers' offense and their fate in the National League West race. He was batting .337 at the time of the injury. After the crash, he hit .214 with six home runs, 15 RBIs and 33 strikeouts in 112 at-bats. Meanwhile, the Dodgers were two games out of first place when Kemp was hurt and finished nine games back of the Giants.
Kemp, 28, has been doing bike and treadmill work since the surgery and now is in Arizona, about to step up the rehab program that will be longer than he originally hoped. He won't be able to start swinging a bat until January.
"I was definitely surprised and definitely disappointed," Kemp said upon hearing the news from ElAttrache. "I wish it could have been a little cleanup and just six weeks.
"They said I should be ready for Spring Training, so that's before Opening Day."
Is he concerned that the injury could undermine his performance?
"Not as long as I rehab it, and I know it will be where I want it and I can do what I want to do to help my team win," he said.
Kemp, who a year ago set a 2012 goal of 50 home runs and 50 stolen bases, has redesigned his sights for 2013.
"Just be healthy," he said. "That's my main goal, simple as that. If I'm healthy, good things should happen."
Not having a healthy Kemp meant that, even with the addition of Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez for lineup protection, the Dodgers offense sputtered. And even if Kemp's healthy, he shied away from the suggestion that the Dodgers would be favored to win the NL West next year.
"I don't know if we'd be favorites. The Giants got to the World Series," he said. "There isn't more pressure on us. Still got to play 162 games. We just didn't play to our capabilities this year. There's a lot to work on."
Kemp said he has researched what lies ahead in his rehab by speaking with Ramirez and Gonzalez, each having he the same operation. He said he knows there's a danger of trying to do too much too soon and suffering a setback.
"Adrian said he felt a lot better after the rehab," Kemp said.
But he acknowledged that the surgery was scary. He had surgery on his hand in the Minor Leagues, but the only other disabling injury he had was a slightly separated right shoulder sustained as a rookie, when he ran into the right-field fence.
"It's pretty scary never having surgery like that," he said. "Any surgery can be scary when you have somebody cut on you. I got through it OK."
The Dodgers will have two of their three starting outfielders coming off major surgery -- Kemp (one year after signing a $160 million contract) and left fielder Carl Crawford, acquired with his $100 million contract commitment from Boston despite having August Tommy John surgery and still not fully proven after wrist surgery.
If Kemp is not ready to start the season, the Dodgers could play Tony Gwynn in center field, or move right fielder Andre Ethier, who started last year's All-Star Game in center.
Jerry Hairston is an outfield option, although he's coming off hip surgery. Yasiel Puig, the $42 million Cuban signee, also could enter the picture. Shane Victorino is a free agent and is not expected to re-sign with the club.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.