LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers manager Dave Roberts painted the most optimistic picture possible of the back injury that put ace Clayton Kershaw on the 10-day disabled list on Monday.
Roberts said scans revealed Kershaw has a lower back strain, not a recurrence of the disk herniation that sidelined him for 2 1/2 months last year. Roberts also hedged on a reported return of four to six weeks, saying any timetable would be "unfair to Clayton," but added that a return this year "is a very safe bet."
"A timetable has kind of been put out there, but we don't know," said Roberts. "With Clayton and his desire and medicine, anything can happen. We're very reluctant to put any type of timetable on it. It's unfair to Clayton as far as speculating and trying to project."
After a pregame conference with Kershaw, the club medical staff and front office, Roberts said it was too soon to know how long Kershaw will be sidelined.
"Over the course of the next week we'll see how he feels and how the body reacts to medication," Roberts said. "As everything takes, we'll know more. Right now, he's on a slow program."
Roberts said he wasn't sure whether Kershaw's turn in the rotation initially would be filled with a bullpen effort led by long reliever Brock Stewart, who took batting practice with the starting pitchers on Monday, or a Minor League callup. Roberts delicately handled a question about acquiring a replacement via trade, while front-office executives Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi were not available for comment.
"Every team in baseball would want Yu Darvish. That's easy," Roberts said. "I just can't speculate. It's a fact we'd be better with him, as would 29 other teams. If it happens or not, we're going to keep winning baseball games."
Closer Kenley Jansen was asked if he thought a rumored acquisition of the Texas right-hander was a good idea, considering the circumstances.
"That's not my job to do that," Jansen said. "Why not? I would say why not, but that's not my job. We have a great team."
Last year, Kershaw was injured in late June. The club quickly acquired right-handed starter Bud Norris and a month later added left-handed starter Rich Hill. And unlike last year, the Dodgers don't have a Julio Urias ready to step in. Urias is out for a year after shoulder surgery. Walker Buehler, the next great Minor League hope, is not nearly as advanced as Urias was a year ago. Buehler, 22, is ranked by MLBPipeline.com as the Dodgers' No. 1 prospect. and the No. 13 prospect in all of baseball.
While Roberts was guarded with details on Kershaw's condition, he stressed that this injury is different than last year's and that the decision for Kershaw to forego surgery last year "was the right one."
It would be hard to look at Kershaw's body of work this year and argue. Kershaw leads baseball in wins (15), ERA (2.04), innings (141 1/3) and hasn't lost since May 1.
Similarly, Kershaw was 11-1 with a 1.57 ERA going into a June 26 start last year when he was injured. Again, the original working assumption for Kershaw's return was four to six weeks, but he had a setback during the rehab and was out until a Sept. 9 start in Miami, when he allowed two runs in three innings.
He opened the game against Atlanta on Sunday with an eight-pitch first inning. He said he felt great until warming up for the second, pitching through discomfort to finish the inning.
But anyone with a bad back knows how unpredictable, and debilitating, they are. Kershaw only needs to look around the clubhouse, where Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez are serving extended periods on the DL with herniated disks.
When Kershaw was injured last year, the Dodgers trailed by eight games. When he returned, they had a four-game lead. This time, the Dodgers are up by 10 1/2 games.
"Knowing the way we responded and the way we played in his absence makes it a little bit easier pill to swallow, I guess, but you don't want him not taking the ball every fifth day," said Justin Turner. "But we've talked about the depth the front office has created and how guys step up. That's what we expect to do."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
The consensus No. 1 pitcher in fantasy, Kershaw (2.04 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 10.7 K/9 rate) will leave a major void in lineups during his time on the DL. Without a waiver-wire option who can approach the left-hander's outstanding production, owners should analyze their league standings before choosing a replacement. Those who need to make up ground in the strikeout department should see if Charlie Morton, Trevor Bauer or Trevor Cahill are available, while owners who are protecting their ratios should opt for a reliever like Archie Bradley, Brad Hand or Pat Neshek.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.