“If he were on the opening day roster, he would be a starter,” Roberts said.
Roberts said the club hasn’t decided who will start on opening day. It won’t be Walker Buehler; Roberts ruled him out, too. The other options are Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Kenta Maeda. Of the three, Hill is the clear favorite to land the assignment. The 39-year-old left-hander has already been stretched out to five innings in spring training. He’s allowed four runs in 11 innings after beginning his offseason throwing program earlier than in the past.
“I feel like I’m way ahead of the curve as far as spring trainings go,” Hill said after allowing three runs in 4 2/3 innings Sunday. “I feel like this spring training I’m throwing the ball well. It’s been much, much better than spring trainings before.”
Ross Stripling will assume Kershaw’s place in the starting rotation; for how long remains unclear. Roberts said Kershaw won’t pitch in the three-game Freeway Series with the Angels, which begins Sunday. Part of the reason is procedural: Teams can backdate stints on the injured list up to three days as long as the player doesn’t appear in a major-league game in that span. Cactus League and Freeway Series games are considered official major-league games.
Kershaw, who turned 31 on Tuesday, is scheduled to face hitters for the first time since Feb. 18 in a live batting practice session Wednesday. Roberts said the left-hander could then face hitters again Saturday. Kershaw has thrown three bullpen sessions since he resumed throwing off a mound following his shoulder trouble. In his third session, on Sunday, he incorporated his entire arsenal for the first time after throwing just fastballs in his first two bullpens.
It will be the sixth time Kershaw is placed on the injured list in his career, and the first time he’ll officially go on it with a shoulder injury. In 2014, Kershaw missed more than a month with a strained left shoulder and back muscle inflammation. Kershaw’s shoulder, however, was a nuisance last season and his slider’s depth consequently suffered. The pitch lost its bite and often was indistinguishable from his fastball, making it easier to hit.
Kershaw still finished with a 2.73 earned-run average in 161⅓ innings across 26 starts, working around biceps and back injuries that landed him on the injured list twice. Only six pitchers in baseball with at least 160 innings pitched compiled a lower ERA.
But for the first time since 2008, when he broke into the majors in late May at 20 years old, Kershaw will not begin the season on the Dodgers’ opening day roster.