First, Kershaw played long toss. Then, he worked in his repertoire of pitches off flat ground. And now, he's moving to a mound. If Kershaw's bullpen goes well, he'll ramp up the next one and possibly move to a rehab assignment -- if he's ready before the Minor League season ends at the start of September.
"Our expectation is that he would go out there and face hitters," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "As we look at the calendar, we feel that there's time for Clayton to make a couple, two, three starts before the end of the season"
While Roberts is optimistic about getting his ace back, he will wait until after the 'pen session to update Kershaw's timeline. The skipper could confirm, though, that Kershaw is pain-free after a week-plus of throwing.
"We wouldn't continue to go forward if he weren't," Roberts said.
Just since Kershaw's last start, the Dodgers have cycled through nine starters. The last time they used the same five pitchers in back-to-back times through the rotation was before Kershaw got hurt.
Losing their ace has taken a toll not just in the rotation, but in the bullpen, too. No team's relievers have pitched more innings since the All-Star break than the Dodgers'.
"If you look at each facet of the game … I think the bullpen has been the key component to our success," Roberts said. "What I've asked of them -- the situation of taking the ball in the first inning, the second inning, the ninth inning, for whatever circumstance -- to still get outs. Very commendable."
It's doubtful that Hyun-Jin Ryu returns this season. He's been out since July with elbow tendinitis. Brandon McCarthy left his start Saturday with an injured right hip. Roberts doesn't have a timetable for his return but expects him back. Rich Hill, who hasn't pitched for the Dodgers since they acquired him from the A's at the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, was scheduled to throw a simulated game in Arizona on Thursday.
Even with the instability of the rotation, the Dodgers have overtaken the Giants for first place in the National League West. Adding a stable starting five of Kershaw, Hill, McCarthy, Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir can only make Roberts excited.
"If Clayton's back, if Rich is back, Kenta's throwing the ball the way he's throwing and you get the other guys in the rotation, obviously it sets up well for our club," Roberts said. "Right now, those guys are working their way back. But the most encouraging thing for me is that we're not waiting for guys to get back. We're taking care of the business at hand. That's been our mindset since day one. But certainly, when we get those guys back, we're better for it."