The most highly anticipated bullpen session of the spring took place Monday at Camelback Ranch. Clayton Kershaw stood on the rubber, a one-mound buffer between him and Kenta Maeda, who was one of the afterthoughts throwing in the background. Russell Martin crouched behind the plate. Fans lined up to witness on one side, media members and team officials on the other.
They watched so closely because Kershaw had not thrown off a mound since Feb. 20, shoulder inflammation sabotaging his spring. He tossed 20 pitches, all fastballs. Nine from the windup and 11 from the stretch. All parties emerged encouraged.
“Felt great, yeah,” Kershaw said. “It was another good day. And I’ll take that right now. So just keep moving forward from here and start building up.”
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt described the exercise as “excellent.” He noted that Kershaw appeared “freer and cleaner” while throwing at 80% effort. He didn’t overdo it and kept his rhythm.
“It was great seeing him on the mound again,” Honeycutt said.
Kershaw, 30, is racing against the clock to start on opening day for the ninth consecutive season. He has 17 days to prepare. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said that he doesn’t believe Kershaw is starting from square one because he extended himself before his shoulder flared up and has kept his arm in shape. But he has acknowledged the obvious: For Kershaw to be deemed ready for opening day, he’ll have to quicken his build-up process or begin the season with stricter limitations than usual.
“We still got to be on the same page with the two guys and see if it makes sense to them,” Roberts said. “They got to believe in that, feel good about it and we as well from a roster standpoint.”
Vicente Padilla, last seen pitching for the Boston Red Sox in 2012, was the last pitcher not named Kershaw to make an opening-day start for the Dodgers. That was in 2010. Kershaw started on opening day the next season on his way to the first of his three National League Cy Young awards.
Kershaw’s streak is the longest in Dodgers history. Robin Roberts of the Philadelphia Phillies holds the record with 12 consecutive opening-day starts for one team. Jack Morris holds the overall record, tallying 14 opening-day starts with the Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays. Kershaw knows he’s in elite company.
“Yes and no, I guess,” Kershaw said when asked if starting on opening day mattered to him. “Yes because I’ve got a little streak going and just the history behind it is pretty cool. But no in the fact that it’s not worth just one game out of [many], so you got to kind of weigh that back and forth. Yes and no.”
Before that, Kershaw will have to make strides he was supposed to have made weeks ago. Next up is another bullpen session Wednesday or Thursday. Kershaw said he has thought about his status beyond that. He acknowledged he has a target date in mind but declined to share details with reporters.
He and the Dodgers have a couple of weeks to figure out if he will be on the mound March 28 at Dodger Stadium against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“We’re not going to close the door right now,” Roberts said.
Walker Buehler is scheduled to throw his second live batting practice session of the spring Wednesday. Buehler, 24, faced hitters for the first time Saturday. He has been “slow-played” this spring after throwing 177 innings between the regular season and playoffs last season. Roberts said that Buehler could pitch in a game after Wednesday’s session. … Rich Hill celebrated his 39th birthday Monday by logging 4⅔ innings against San Francisco Giants minor leaguers. He gave up one run and struck out seven. … The Dodgers placed outfielder Andrew Toles on the restricted list. Toles, 26, has not reported to camp because of a personal matter. The move leaves 39 players on the 40-man roster.