Mattingly: Kemp won't play until 100 percent

LOS ANGELES -- Don Mattingly says he isn't sure when Matt Kemp will be back in the lineup for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It's possible Kemp could begin a rehab assignment next week and be back with the team in September, but Mattingly hasn't been very good this season when it comes to guessing the return of players on the disabled list, so he sidestepped giving a timeline on the return of his two-time All-Star outfielder and simply said he won't play him until he's 100 percent.

"What I don't want to do is just throw him back in and put him in the middle of this thing when everything is going pretty good and he's not sharp," Mattingly said. "I really want him to be sharp when he plays. That's the biggest thing. I want him to be ready to play."

Kemp sprained his ankle July 21 and was put on the disabled list for the third time this season after being sidelined in May and June as well. In just 62 games this season, Kemp is batting .263 with five home runs and 27 RBIs.

Mattingly said Kemp has continued to improve and progress and could start to run the bases next week, with a rehab assignment after that.

"Hopefully, he gets a couple minor league games," Mattingly said. "It sounds like he had a good day today. He ran really well today, and he'll start running the bases in the next couple of days, and once you do that, guys are ready to play. Hopefully, we'll get him in some games, and if we can't do that, we'll set up some [simulation] games and get him a number of at-bats that way. I want to get him back into the mix, but I want him to be sharp when he comes. I want to give him the best chance to have success. I don't want him to be just in spring training mode."

Kemp said recently that he doesn't have pain or swelling in his ankle anymore and is targeting a return in early September.

"You want him to be able to play at full speed because you want him to not be afraid to slide and not be afraid to run into the gap and stop and make a turn, steal a base," Mattingly said. "You want him to know that he can do that."

When Kemp does return, Mattingly will have to juggle having four talented outfielders -- Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford -- for three spots. Mattingly said the opposing pitcher and the way each player is playing will dictate his lineup when all four are healthy.

"It depends what kind of pitching we're facing and matchups and things like that," Mattingly said. "I'll do the same thing I've always done when I'm setting up a lineup, and I'll be cognizant of giving a guy a day [off] here and a day there."

Mattingly says he understands there will likely be a highly paid, healthy outfielder unhappy he's not playing when all four are available this season, which hasn't happened often because Crawford and Ethier have missed time as well in 2013.

"We had a talk about this," Mattingly said. "Somebody's not going to be happy. I told them that I don't expect them all to be happy. If you're not in the lineup and you're a guy who wants to play every day, you're not going to be happy, but you ask them to understand the situation. I don't know what to tell you. If you're getting two or three hits a day, you're usually playing, so it's a little bit of a competition. But more than anything, it'll be about matchups. There will be some tough decisions to make, and I'm going to have to deal with it."

It might be hard for Kemp, Crawford and Ethier -- combined, they are making around $54 million this season -- to fathom competing for a spot in the lineup given their salaries, but Mattingly said contracts do not factor into the equation at all.

"Dre's making some change and Carl's making some change," Mattingly said of Ethier and Crawford. "I just don't think the contract has anything to do with it. We have a lot of guys that are making a lot of money. We're all trying to win. These guys want to win. Nobody wants to screw something up. They want to be productive, and they want to be part of the group."

As good as the Dodgers have played in Kemp's absence this season, Mattingly said the Dodgers aren't being overly cautious with Kemp and his return because they're winning. They simply don't want to see Kemp return to the field until he is fully healed and ready to play like his old self again.

"We still need him back," Mattingly said. "We don't throw guys out there that aren't 100 percent. If they can't play 100 percent, we're not going to put guys out there, especially off a rehab [assignment]. If you're coming back off the DL, you have to be 100 percent. We wouldn't send him out there if his ankle was 90 percent. We know what Matt is. We know what Matt's capable of, and I want to get him back in the mix."