Ace slated to start against Marlins on limited pitch count
By Jack Baer
LOS ANGELES -- The wait is over. Clayton Kershaw will make his return Friday against the Marlins after spending more than two months on the DL with a herniated disk.
His workload will be initially limited, but it's still a piece of good news that the Dodgers and their ace have long awaited.
"It's a big lift. I think everyone in that clubhouse is excited," manager Dave Roberts said Sunday. "We've all anticipated Clayton's return. For Clayton to watch his teammates play for this length of time, it was killing him. To be active again and help us win a baseball game, he's over the moon."
Kershaw dominated in his sole rehab start with Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga on Saturday, striking out five over three innings and allowing one hit with no ball leaving the infield. He threw 35 pitches and his fastball sat at 92-94 miles per the Dodgers' Minor League video staff. He threw an additional 15 pitches in the bullpen to reach his 50-pitch target for the night.
"Velocity good, slider, curveball, everything was where it was supposed to be. Talking to him, he was excited," Roberts said.
Kershaw will be facing a Marlins team against which he had his worst start of the season. After cruising through five scoreless innings, Kershaw allowed five straight hits, including a home run from Giancarlo Stanton.
He finished with a season-high five earned runs on seven hits in seven innings and took one of his two losses this season.
The larger question is how many innings the Dodgers will get out of Kershaw in his first start back. A full jump from 50 pitches to his usual workload as a starter would be reckless with the playoffs approaching, so Roberts will proceed with caution Friday.
"There's really no hard number, but I'm certainly going to be aware of the usage because as big a start as it is to get him back, I think the bigger picture is going forward and managing it," Roberts said. "Clayton is going to want to go as far as he can go, but that's definitely my job to manage."
Kershaw, who Roberts has consistently described as aggressive in his approach to rehab, reluctantly agreed that there would be a limit to how far he can go. That limitation is at least mitigated with rosters expanded in September, giving the team a larger bullpen to cover a short start.
"I have an idea [how long I can pitch]. I'm sure my idea is different than what I'll be able to," Kershaw said. "It's probably not going to be the full game first time out. I'm not OK with it but I understand the situation. It's fortunate for me that it is September and we do have a big bullpen. I'd much rather get to pitch and try to help than pitch another rehab game. I'll take it, for sure."
Kershaw has been out since June 26 when pain in his back flared up. It initially seemed like he could make a quick return, but a setback in a mid-July simulated game forced a shutdown and much longer stint on the sidelines.
As far as what lessons Kershaw took from the whole ordeal, the ace didn't see many benefits.
"I'll never get hurt again, because it's awful," he said. "I didn't learn anything other than it's not fun to not play. It's a good reminder that baseball's fun."
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.