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Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw takes another positive step toward a return

Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw takes another positive step toward a return
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw signs autographs prior to a spring training game at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz. (Norm Hall / Getty Images)

Clayton Kershaw really wanted to pitch on opening day. He badly wanted to extend his franchise-record streak of eight consecutive opening-day starts. He does not deny it. He appreciates his place in Dodgers history, the company he holds, what it represents. It is a badge that simultaneously demonstrates his greatness and reliability. And next Thursday, when someone not named Clayton Kershaw throws the first pitch of the Dodgers’ 2019 season, it will end.

“It’s going to be sad on opening day, watching somebody else go,” Kershaw said. “But I’ll get over it.”

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Kershaw spoke Wednesday after pitching to teammates David Freese, Joc Pederson and Max Muncy on a back field at Camelback Ranch. It was the first time he faced hitters since Feb. 18, before shoulder inflammation wrecked his spring training. The team called it a live batting practice session, but it wasn’t quite that because the batters didn’t swing, they only tried to bunt. They were there to track pitches and they tracked 22 of them. It was about an inning’s worth of work for Kershaw, an example of how far the left-hander is from pitching in a game that matters. He will begin the season on the injured list.

“I just talked to him and he said he felt really good, was really positive,” manager Dave Roberts. “The ball coming out good. … I think it’s a box we checked. Very positive.”

Kershaw next will throw a bullpen before logging a two-inning batting practice at Angel Stadium before the second game of the Freeway Series. It’ll be the next step in what Kershaw said will be a methodical progression. He will not skip steps. The goal is to have the satisfaction of a healthy campaign rinse off the early letdown.

“There’s nothing, team-wise or season-wise, there’s nothing more important about that game than anything else,” said Kershaw, who turned 31 on Tuesday. “It’s just all the outside stuff. I don’t want to say it’s not important but it’s kind of not when it comes to the baseball season. But it’s important for me just because of what it symbolizes. It’s cool.”

Ross Stripling will assume Kershaw’s spot in the rotation until he returns, although Rich Hill is the most likely candidate to start opening day. When Kershaw returns has not been specified.

Kershaw, who won’t be on the Dodgers’ opening-day roster for the first time since 2008, estimated he will need 20 days from Wednesday to adequately prepare for a regular-season game, increasing each pitching session by an inning every five days until he reaches 100 pitches. Corners cannot be cut. If Kershaw is correct and the schedule is followed exactly, he would be ready April 9, when the Dodgers are in the middle of a four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I haven’t had a spring training yet so I got to go through it all,” Kershaw said. “And it’s tedious and it’s boring. But hopefully it pays off with a healthy season, you know?”

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