Posted on September 4, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
The best pitcher in baseball took a big step towards returning to the majors Saturday night. Clayton Kershaw threw a minor league rehab game for the Los Angeles Dodgers A-ball affiliate in Rancho Cucamonga, the first time he’s pitched in an official game since June 26. Kershaw has been on the DL since a few days after that start with a herniated disk in his back. Saturday’s start could not have gone much better, setting up the possibility for Kershaw’s next start to be in the majors.
Kershaw threw three shutout innings against A-ball hitters who looked overmatched against the dominant southpaw. He struck out five and allowed just one hit, which was an infield single. After the single, Kershaw coaxed a double play to complete his outing. Kershaw was expected to throw 50 pitches, but breezed through three innings on only 34 pitches, going to the bullpen afterwards to increase his pitch count.
“Fastball and slider were pretty decent,” Kershaw said about his performance. “Curveball needs a little work, wasn’t there at times. I threw a couple good ones, but a few of them got away from me. I guess for as much time as I’ve missed, I’ll take it, but once I get up to pitching real games in the Major Leagues, there’s not going to be so much forgiveness. Definitely need to be more consistent.”
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One of the biggest challenges Kershaw faced Saturday was being able to sit down between innings and then return to the mound, but he says his problematic back injury responded well. “It felt good, and I was able to warm up and sit in between innings and work on stuff that was bothering me in the past,” he said after the game. “It was fun to pitch in a game setting again, be in normal game-type situations. Definitely fun to be back out there.”
After Saturday’s successful rehab start, Kershaw now has his mind set on returning to the majors in his next outing, possibly as soon as next week. “We’re still ironing some stuff out,” Kershaw said. “At this point, it’s more of a pitch count deal, making sure that I can contribute and not just go out there. It helps that it’s September. We got a lot of guys in the bullpen. We’re still working kinks out, but we’ll see.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Saturday that Kershaw will pitch again in four and five days, and he acknowledged that the lefty wants his next appearance to happen in a big league uniform. Roberts did not say if that would happen or not, only that he would have a conversation with Kershaw and others about what the next step will be.
The Dodgers are no doubt eager to get Kershaw back in the fold, but they have held up surprisingly well amidst a number of injuries to starting pitchers. In fact, when top pitching prospect Jose De Leon makes his big league debut Sunday, he will be the 14th starting pitcher Los Angeles has used this season. However, the Dodgers hold just a two-game lead over the San Francisco Giants, and they will want Kershaw back as soon as possible to help them close out the division and ensure their ace is at his best when the Dodgers enter the postseason.