Back like he's never been gone! The Los Angeles Dodgers won their fifth game in a row (and nine of their last 10) on Thursday night in Clayton Kershaw's return to the mound after missing about a month and a half with a shoulder injury.
The left-hander lasted five innings (on just 67 pitches!) and allowed just one earned run on three hits. He struck out four and walked zero. It appeared as if he was coming off four days of rest -- not a six-week layoff that endangered his Cy Young-caliber season.
He was dotting corners, fooling hitters with his curveball, and even utilizing his changeup a few times. After the game, pitcher Ryan Yarbrough, who relieved Kershaw for three innings, talked about how much of an honor it was to follow the legendary left-hander in his first game at Dodger Stadium (Yarbrough was acquired from the Kansas City Royals at the trade deadline) and said it was "electric" to watch him.
Our previous worries about manager Dave Roberts' guarded responses have dissipated. The Dodgers clearly played Kershaw's injury situation correctly with their seemingly cautious approach, and will now hopefully have him back fully healthy and dialed in for the stretch run and postseason.
Roberts and the front office trusted the offense enough to give Kershaw the longest amount of recovery time possible, and the result has been a surge to the top of the NL West standings with pitching reinforcements coming at the perfect time.
Dodgers' caution with Clayton Kershaw injury could be key to 2023 run
The Dodgers know how valuable Kershaw is to the life of their team. He's an influence in the clubhouse and dugout in addition to remaining one of the best pitchers in the game.
With the uncertainty surrounding the trade deadline and who might be available, there's no question the Dodgers probably made the extra effort in protecting their most important asset. Kershaw kept reiterating he was "ready to go" for a few weeks now, but the team followed the timeline it felt was best for him to return and be able to maintain his health for the final couple months of the season.
It proved to be the prudent move because the Dodgers were only able to acquire Yarbrough and Lance Lynn at the deadline -- two pitchers who will undoubtedly help but won't alter the dynamic of the struggling pitching staff. Knowing it was going to be difficult to acquire another ace or co-ace, preserving Kershaw was their next best strategy.
And would you look at that ... Julio Urías and Bobby Miller might be heating up at the right time after their solid performances over the last few weeks. Throw in Lynn rediscovering himself after leaving the toxic situation in Chicago, and this might be one of the better postseason rotations out there if the chips keep falling in their favor.
Right now, the Dodgers backing their current personnel, adding ancillary pieces, and being judicious with players recovering from injuries (Kershaw, Urías and now hopefully JD Martinez) could be the non-flashy keys to their eventual 2023 postseason run.