On the final morning of a hellish, 10-day trip, pitcher Clayton Kershaw left the Dodgers on Sunday to travel to Los Angeles after complaining of discomfort in his prized left arm. He underwent an examination from team doctor Neal ElAttrache which revealed biceps tendinitis, with an undetermined recovery time.
The team placed Kershaw on the 10-day disabled list in the morning. Kershaw had dealt with less severe bouts of this condition in the past. He cut short a session of catch Saturday afternoon because his arm "just wasn't feeling right," manager Dave Roberts explained.
Kershaw has spent time on the DL in each of the past three seasons, and four of the last five. This is his first stint involving an arm injury. A biceps injury can be the precursor to something more severe with the elbow or shoulder, but the Dodgers insisted there was no evidence of structural damage yet.
"There are no indications that this is anything serious, anything beyond biceps tendinitis," president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said before Kershaw's exam.
The latest blow came before the team wrapped up a three-city, 11-game trip in which Corey Seager, Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu also were shut down with injuries. The trip started with Pedro Baez falling off a mound and costing his team a game. It only got worse from there, culminating in Sunday's 3-0 loss to the San Diego Padres.
Kershaw became the fourth Dodgers All-Star to land on the disabled list. Seager underwent a season-ending operation on his throwing elbow Friday. Puig, who bruised his left foot and hip, could be reactivated on Wednesday. Justin Turner has yet to appear in a game since fracturing his wrist March 19, but he took batting practice with his teammates this weekend.
The calamities are not limited to the stars. Second baseman Logan Forsythe has yet to begin a rehab assignment for his sore shoulder. Ryu will sit out until after the All-Star break because of a torn groin muscle. Rich Hill has not pitched since April 14 while dealing with a cracked fingernail and a subsequent infection in the finger.
As the injuries pile up, so do the losses. The Dodgers left Monterrey with more defeats (seven) than victories (four) on this trip. They salvaged a split with Arizona during a four-game set midway through this road swing, but still trail the Diamondbacks by eight games in the National League West.
"It's been tough," Friedman said. "But injuries are part of the game. We've seen this team respond in the past when others had written us off. We expect to do the same thing. We haven't quite clicked yet with all of our various components to surge through that adversity. We haven't seen that yet. But we expect that we will."
The injury to Kershaw created an awkward situation Saturday night. The Dodgers decided to scratch Hill as the starter for Sunday's series finale and push him into Kershaw's spot on Tuesday at home against the Diamondbacks. But Roberts only noted that Stripling would start Sunday in Hill's place. The manager said he was unsure when Hill could pitch again.
Informed of this, reporters spoke to Hill after Saturday's loss. Hill was aware that Kershaw was headed to the DL but was not authorized to tell the media. A clumsy tango ensued. "Nothing's wrong," Hill said. "There's nothing going on. They just decided to go with Strip."
In the moment, Hill and Roberts appeared to be on separate pages. A day later it became clear they were concealing the news about Kershaw. The Dodgers called up right-hander Brock Stewart to replace Kershaw on the roster.
The Dodgers afforded Kershaw two days of extra rest after his May 1 start at Arizona. Kershaw had reported symptoms of biceps pain to the training staff following that outing. He played cards with teammates before Saturday's game with an electric muscle stimulation machine strapped to his left arm.
Kershaw has been operating at slightly diminished capacity, with his fastball velocity dipping a couple ticks and his offspeed pitches not always cooperating. Still, Kershaw has remained effective, with a 2.86 earned-run average in seven starts. Yet he has not pitched beyond the seventh inning and has allowed seven home runs.
Kershaw missed 10 weeks in 2016 with a herniated disk in his lower back. He suffered a strained muscle in his back last season and spent five weeks on the DL. His latest ailment creates another red flag if he enters free agency, as the Dodgers must balance concerns about Kershaw's health with their belief in his ability to extend his Hall of Fame career.
Kershaw can opt out of his seven-year, $215-million contract after this season. He has not revealed his intentions, but the industry expects him to join a free-agent class that's expected to include Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The Dodgers are expected to pursue Kershaw with vigor — unless their worries about his health trump their zeal for making him a Dodger for life.
Kershaw devised a simple solution for this situation. As the season dawned, he expressed his hope to take the baseball every fifth day and make 32 starts. That goal is no longer possible.
"I know he's frustrated," Roberts said. "He's had to deal with some things the last couple years. He wants to carry the load. For each of the players, you feel for these guys.
"But you're trying to still win baseball games. It's that 'next man up' mentality. It's not insensitive. But it's kind of the way it has to be."
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes
1:15 p.m.: This article has been updated with comments from Dodgers officials and additional details and background.