The face of the franchise was down. The best pitcher in baseball had been hit by a line drive. Clayton Kershaw sat on the mound, rubbing his hand against the side of his face.
And then he got up, shrugged off a chipped tooth, and kept on pitching. The Dodgers exhaled. A day that had started in disappointment would not end in devastation.
On Friday morning, the Dodgers said Hyun-Jin Ryu had tightness in his left shoulder, an injury that could put him on the disabled list. On Friday afternoon, Kershaw collapsed on the mound, with teammates and the athletic trainer rushing to his side.
“A little scary,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said, “with him.”
Kershaw, the reigning National League most valuable player, had turned his body and thrown up his glove in an attempt to catch a ball hit by Oakland Athletics infielder Andy Parrino. Kershaw said he misjudged the speed of the ball — a broken-bat liner — and the ball struck the lower left side of his face.
He sat up promptly, as Dodgers athletic trainer Stan Conte checked him. Kershaw stood up, took one warm-up pitch and remained in the game.
Since he had escaped serious injury, his best friend on the team felt free to joke about it. Catcher A.J. Ellis pointed out that the ball was a softly-hit liner hit right back to Kershaw.
“I felt like the Gold Glove was a sham,” Ellis cracked.
Ryu’s condition was no laughing matter. He went on the disabled list last April because of inflammation in his left shoulder, and the condition recurred in September. He said the discomfort this time is less severe.
Ryu received an anti-inflammatory injection but said he did not get an MRI examination. “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a low 4,” Ryu said through an interpreter. “Not too worried this time. It was just a little thing.”
Mattingly said the team would be careful in handling Ryu because he had a similar injury last season.
“Obviously, this is the second time,” Mattingly said. “We want to be cautious and give him every chance to stay healthy.”
Although the season starts April 6, the Dodgers would not need a fifth starter until April 14 — and not again until April 25.
That could give Ryu additional time to rebuild his strength. If he opens the season on the disabled list, the Dodgers’ options to replace him include Erik Bedard, Joe Wieland, Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias.
The injury could put additional pressure on the Dodgers’ bullpen, already weakened because closer Kenley Jansen will start the season on the disabled list as he recovers from foot surgery.
Ryu’s velocity dropped noticeably Tuesday during his last start, but he said he did not experience the shoulder discomfort until Wednesday.
Ryu said he was discouraged by the injury because he had put particular emphasis on core conditioning and shoulder strengthening in his off-season workouts.
“I’m frustrated,” he said. “For this year, I had a lot of preparation. What can I do? I’ll just have to start all over.”
Ryu, who turns 28 next week, went 14-7 with a 3.38 earned-run average last season. He pitched 192 innings in 2013, his first season with the Dodgers, and 152 innings last season, and he wanted to pitch 200 innings this season.
He said that goal might still be attainable. He said he hoped to resume throwing soon — the Dodgers said he would be evaluated again this weekend — and said he believed he could make the opening day roster.
“We still have two more weeks,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any major problem.”
That time frame played into Kershaw’s decision to continue pitching after he was hit in the face. He said he felt as if he had been hit by a pitch and expected to feel sore Saturday. However, once Conte cleared him medically, Kershaw said he needed to continue building his pitch count with opening day approaching rapidly.
“It’s pretty important that I stay out there,” he said.
He was hit with one out in the third inning, completed five innings, then threw more pitches in the bullpen. He was in good spirits after the game, riding an exercise bike as he spoke with reporters and talking about how he lost “a chunk” of a tooth.
He said he had no interest in wearing the protective padded caps now available for pitchers, although such a cap would not have helped him Friday.
“You look like Mario from Nintendo,” Kershaw said. “I’m not a huge appearance guy, but I don’t know if I could take myself seriously.”
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