LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kemp was born to play, not lead cheers, so the Dodgers' superstar center fielder naturally was beaming on Tuesday, a few hours before taking the field at Dodger Stadium for the first time in 15 days.
Claiming his left hamstring strain was fully healed, Kemp returned to his familiar No. 3 spot in manager Don Mattingly's lineup against the Brewers. The National League's Player of the Month for April, Kemp was hoping to regain his stroke against an unfamiliar right-hander named Michael Fiers, who made his first Major League start.
"I'm ready to go," Kemp said, having ripped Triple-A pitching (5-for-7, two homers) in two rehab games for Albuquerque. "I actually feel good. I don't even feel [the hamstring strain]. I'm definitely confident in my leg."
Kemp is hitting .359, with 12 homers and 28 RBIs in 34 games. He owns a .726 slugging percentage, and .446 on-base marks in 117 at-bats. The Dodgers have maintained their winning ways (9-5 in his absence), and continued to deliver a productive offense largely because of the contributions of A.J. Ellis, Tony Gwynn, Andre Ethier and Jerry Hairston Jr.
"They've done a great job playing good baseball," Kemp said. "I'm back, and it's time to go to work. A lot of guys are stepping up doing a great job. Tony and A.J. are getting big hits.
"It definitely shows the character of the team, our chemistry. If one person doesn't get the job done, another person does. That's what it takes to be a winning team. We've lost Mark [Ellis], Juan [Rivera], me, [Juan] Uribe. Those are four starters. To step up and do what they've done is incredible."
Kemp, who strained the hamstring on May 14, said "it feels like a month" that he's been away.
"I woke up today feeling like it's Opening Day," he said. That might be a good omen. Kemp had two hits, including a homer, and drove in three runs in a 5-3 Opening Day victory at San Diego.