Overcoming herniated disk, Dodgers' ace has first outing since June 26
By Jack Baer
RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. -- With the playoffs fast approaching, Clayton Kershaw (herniated disk) pitched in a baseball game for the first time since June 26 as he began a rehab assignment Saturday at Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga.
On Sunday it was decided that he will pitch for the Dodgers on Friday when they play the Marlins in Miami. Kershaw said following the rehab outing that he expected to pitch in the next four or five days as long as his back presented no problems while he cooled down.
"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."
Kershaw faced the minimum number of batters over three innings while throwing 34 pitches. He got five strikeouts and had his fastball ranging from 92-94 mph in all three innings, according to the stadium gun. The sole hit against him was a soft infield single that was erased on a double play.
"Fastball and slider were pretty decent," Kershaw said. "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."
The 34 pitches actually came well short of Kershaw's 50-pitch target, so he threw the remaining pitches in the bullpen.
"Three good innings, 15 more [pitches] in the 'pen to make a good night even better," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "[Four or five days], is that what he said? We're going to talk about that. Clayton has an idea of what he wants to do, so we'll have a discussion."
Vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes and director of player development Gabe Kapler were among the Dodgers brass in attendance.
Fellow rehabbing pitcher Brett Anderson followed Kershaw for a scheduled five innings or 75-80 pitches of relief, but lasted just two innings while allowing six earned runs and nine hits. Outfielder Andre Ethier also made his seventh rehab appearance with Rancho, going 1-for-3 with a double and sacrifice fly.
Their opponent Saturday night was the Modesto Nuts, the Rockies' California League affiliate, who had two of the team's Top 30 prospects in their lineup with second baseman Forrest Wall (No. 9) and catcher Dom Nunez (No. 13) at designated hitter.
Kershaw had been sidelined since the end of June when pain in his back forced him to the DL. While it initially seemed he could make a quick recovery, a setback in a mid-July simulated game prompted the Dodgers to shut him down.
Kershaw threw a simulated game without incident on Tuesday that allowed the Dodgers to send him to Rancho just in time for the Quakes' final series of the regular season. Catching him was Will Smith, the No. 32 overall pick in the 2016 Draft and the Dodgers' No. 11 prospect. Smith came away impressed, to say the least.
"You're expecting one of the best pitchers you've ever caught and he definitely proved that. He was the best I've ever caught," Smith said. "His curveball was nasty, slider was gross, and the command of his fastball was something I've never seen. But he still looked frustrated after a couple pitches, missing some spots."
Until the injury, Kershaw seemed well on his way to a fourth Cy Young Award after recording a 1.79 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 121 innings in the first half.
Jack Baer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.