Dodgers: Kershaw Update, How Should He Be Used Once He Returns
By Evan Shin
Dodgers’ ace, Clayton Kershaw, is making great progress in his rehab from a back injury that’s sidelined the best pitcher on the planet since July 23rd. With the Dodgers’ rotation in full swing, should the Dodgers rush Kershaw back into things?
When Kershaw went down, all those who bleed blue held their breath. This is the third year in a row Kershaw’s landed on the DL with a back injury, so it’s only natural to worry. However, there was a glimmer of hope since his pain wasn’t as severe as last year. In addition, the Dodgers staff picked up the heavy load Kershaw carried once he went down last season. They’ve done more of the same this season as well.
Since July 23rd, the Dodgers have gone 14-3, which in their current three-month stretch is relatively standard. The difference between 2017 and 2016, is the quality of the depth in starting pitching for the Dodgers. Even without Kershaw, the Dodgers still have Alex Wood and Rich Hill, both having phenomenal seasons. What’s most notable though, are the turnarounds from Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
In fact, the duo is throwing better than Hill and Wood in the last month. Maeda’s held his ERA at 1.98 in in 27.1 innings, while Ryu’s matched that with a 1.88 ERA in 24 innings. The contributions from these two certainly helped fill the void left by Kershaw and Brandon McCarthy. It’s just the latest example of the “next man up” mentality this 2017 Dodgers team embodies.
If the Dodgers didn’t send a message they are capable of winning without Kershaw already; things got more interesting when they added Yu Darvish at the deadline. All the former Texas Ranger has done since arriving is win his first two starts and striking out 20, while only allowing two runs. With five starters performing like Kershaw, what do they do with the real one?
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As mentioned before, Kershaw is recovering quickly. He threw 35-pitch bullpen session on Friday, another one on Sunday, and threw two simulated innings without interruption on Wednesday. He’s cleared to progress to a three-inning, 45-pitch simulation on Monday. A late August/early September return seems very likely.
If the left-hander returns and the other five pitchers are healthy, it’s not hard to see the Dodgers go with a six-man rotation. The obvious upside is that it increases the amount of rest between starts. It can also allow Dave Roberts to let his starters go deeper into games to lighten the bullpen’s workload until the postseason. Pushing the starters to go deeper can also better prepare them for the postseason, with little risk since the Dodgers are so far out in front of everyone else.
However, there are also downsides to going with a six-man rotation. First, it can throw off the rhythm of the pitchers who are used to throwing after four days rest. Also, the playoffs will demand pitchers to go on short rest, which a six-man rotation would not prepare them for.
One thing to keep in mind though is Alex Wood’s velocity has dropped in the last month and a half or so. Once Kershaw comes back, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give Wood a start or two off. He began the season on an irregular schedule, so it’s not impossible.
Regardless, once Kershaw is one hundred percent, the Dodgers shouldn’t hesitate to get him as many innings as possible, with the campaign he’s putting together. He is 15-2, with a league-leading 2.04 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 168 K’s in 141.1 innings. The Dodgers and Kershaw are lucky his injury wasn’t severe enough to derail his Cy Young push, but both should exercise extreme caution.
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Kershaw already has three Cy Young Awards on his mantle. He’s already known as the best pitcher today. However, he is missing one trophy, the most important one. That should be everyone’s focus on this matter. If it means he sits and waits another couple weeks, so be it. Unlike previous years, the Dodgers don’t need to rely solely on Kershaw and are not chasing anyone. There is no rush to bring the ace back, but if he’s ready, the Dodgers have an incredibly strong rotation going into the final stretch.