Team USA's chances in the World Baseball Classic received a major boost this week when the greatest pitcher of his generation, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, agreed to speed up his readiness timeline and take a bite out of Spring Training to go pitch for his country.
Huh. Thought the Dodgers and Rangers were the only two teams he'd ever pitch for. He promised!
While it'll undoubtedly be nice to watch Kershaw deal against the best the world has to offer, and while being selected is certainly an honor, forcing the left-hander into an early start to the 2023 campaign might not be the best thing for the Dodgers' chances, especially considering the rest of their rotation looks like a fleet of question marks.
It was lower back pain that knocked Kershaw out midway through the 2022 season, the latest malady in a long line of reasons for the team to limit his workload as best they can.
Guess they couldn't convince him not to take the ball alongside (checks notes) Logan Webb, Kyle Freeland and Merrill Kelly this March, though.
Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw shouldering load as Team USA's ace in World Baseball Classic
If Kershaw was merely participating in the action and serving as a glorified preseason American cheerleader, this would be perfectly alright.
But have you seen Team USA's roster? Kershaw, who will be freshly 35 during the WBC, is their ace. Their bulldog. The pitcher they'll rely upon when things get rough, and the one they'll turn to for the posters and promotion. That's an awful lot to heap on the left-hander's shoulders midway through spring training, considering the bumps and bruises he's taken in recent years.
Consider the way Dave Roberts has routinely taken Kershaw's foot off the gas pedal for him in recent cold-weather Aprils. Just last season, the great left-hander was working on one of his greatest masterpieces in frigid Minnesota, carrying a perfect game deep into an otherwise-meaningless contest. Roberts erased Kershaw's shot at history, though, in an outsized attempt at preservation after the MLB lockout forced a -- say it with us now -- shortened spring training.
The maneuver didn't work. Kershaw hit the IL anyway with inflammation in his pelvic joint, then suffered back pains midway through the summer that caused a second stint.
The surest way to mess with Kershaw's preparation is to ask him to carry too much of a load after something has interfered with his spring schedule. Somehow, the team and player have brought this burden upon themselves one year after fending off a delay that was beyond their control.
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