Posted on August 31, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine

Los Angeles Dodgers Clayton Kershaw

Image via cbssports.com

Despite their game with the Colorado Rockies being rained out, the Los Angeles Dodgers played an important game on Tuesday, a simulated game. Four of the team’s starting pitchers who are currently on the DL pitched in a simulated game at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, headlined by ace Clayton Kershaw. For Kershaw, facing live hitters was a big step in his return from a back injury that has kept him out for more than two months.

The Dodgers brought in players from their A-ball affiliate in Rancho Cucamonga to face Kershaw, Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, and Scott Kazmir. Kershaw threw just two innings, with Anderson throwing four innings and McCarthy and Kazmir each pitching five simulated innings. For Kazmir, it may be the last step before returning to the mound for the Dodgers, while the other three will need additional work.

Naturally, Kershaw was the focal point of the simulated game. “It was a great step in his progression,” said Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. “He felt great after, which is obviously everything he cared about. As we knew he would do, he said he was not as sharp as he wanted to be, but he’s always going to say that. The most important thing is that he felt great, and we will assess tomorrow what the next steps are.”

The next step for Kershaw may be a minor league rehab start. The minor league season ends Monday for most teams, which could make it difficult for Kershaw to squeeze in an outing, although the Dodgers triple-A affiliate is heading to the Pacific Coast League playoffs, which could allow Kershaw and the other Los Angeles starters on the DL more opportunities to pitch minor league rehab games.

The Dodgers say they are being careful with Kershaw, who has already had one setback while recovering from the herniated disk in his back. “But you have to also balance that with the fact that he’s as competitive a person as I have ever been around, and he wants to get out here and help this team in the worst way,” Friedman said. “We’ll have to balance the medical opinion with how he is doing and feeling and getting him back as soon as we can, but in the most responsible way possible.”

Los Angeles is no doubt eager to get Kershaw and their other starters back from the DL, but the Dodgers have some how thrived with Kershaw on the shelf and a rotation that’s been a revolving door due to the volume of injuries the team has suffered this year. Nevertheless a healthy Kershaw showing up in September and October could be a potential game changer in the National League playoffs, forcing the Dodgers to walk a tightrope between getting him back on the mound with enough time to shake off the rust and risking another setback.

The Dodgers currently lead the spiraling San Francisco Giants by two games in the NL West, so a playoff birth is not yet secure, even if Los Angeles has the wild card to fall back on if the Giants get hot and recapture the division. Kershaw returning could go a long way towards helping the Dodgers lock up the division and be considered a potential force in the postseason. Tuesday’s simulated game was a big step in the right direction.

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