NLCS: Maeda set to pitch Game 1 for Dodgers, with Kershaw probably on deck for Game 2
Greetings from Wrigley Field in Chicago, where the Dodgers will face the Cubs in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday.
Clayton Kershaw reached into his glove and rocked off the bullpen mound. His hand held merely air as he pantomimed his delivery at Wrigley Field.
There was no ball. There was no catcher. There was only a pitcher trying to return to routine during a Dodgers postseason that has wrenched his schedule from alignment.
After Kershaw completed his drills, he ambled behind the batting cage and crossed paths with teammate Kenley Jansen. The duo collected the final nine outs in Game 5 of the National League division series on Thursday — seven from Jansen, two from Kershaw — to set a date with the Cubs in the NL Championship Series.
Jansen also sought normalcy.
Kershaw was walking toward the modernized weight room of this 102-year-old facility. Jansen was walking out of it. His shirt was soaked with sweat. He had already thudded across the outfield grass to stretch his legs, and told President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman he could record five or six outs in Game 1 on Saturday.
“The focus now is on Game 1 tomorrow, the excitement around that,” Friedman said. “The resiliency of this group is something that’s been remarkable all year. And we expect it to continue.”
The Dodgers displayed their fortitude during a 45-inning brawl with the Nationals, a series that culminated with gallantry from Jansen and Kershaw. Each man operated outside the comfort zone of his usual assignment.
Jansen pitched for longer than he had all season. Working on a day of rest, Kershaw forced his way into the game and closed out the Nationals.
The victory at Nationals Park proved cathartic for the Dodgers, who had crashed out in the first round of the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. Now the team must regroup for a clash with the Cubs, a 103-win club that ripped through the regular season and vanquished San Francisco in the first round.
The Dodgers spent Friday recalibrating their roster to prepare for the challenge.
Kenta Maeda will face Chicago left-hander Jon Lester in Game 1. Manager Dave Roberts left unannounced his starter for Game 2, but hinted that Kershaw would receive the assignment.
“We’re not prepared to make that decision yet, but he’s tracking to start when we all think,” Roberts said.
Kershaw indicated he had not been informed when he would start. The team could also choose to use him in Game 3 and offer him four days off after his relief appearance against the Nationals. Kershaw threw 101 pitches on Oct. 7 in Game 1, 110 pitches on Oct. 11 in Game 4 and seven more in the clincher.
In theory, Kershaw could treat the outing in Game 5 as a bullpen session in between starts. In that case, he explained, it would be “a real high-intensity bullpen session.”
The Dodgers are operating with care with Kershaw, who missed more than two months during the summer because of a herniated disk.
“Physically, he feels great,” Roberts said.
Roberts also found an optimistic tone about his closer. Jansen needed 51 pitches Thursday. He had not thrown more than 30 pitches in a game this season. Roberts suggested that Jansen’s arm was not a concern, but there was some worry about his legs.
Jansen will be available for Game 1, Roberts said. But he will be limited to a one-inning stint. Jansen insisted he felt “great” after his workout Friday.
“I’m good to go,” he said.
The Dodgers do not intend to make substantive changes to the roster for this series. Roberts planned to add an extra pitcher to the bullpen. Brett Anderson will join the club in Chicago, but the team could also activate left-hander Alex Wood. Utility man Enrique Hernandez also met the club at Wrigley Field on Friday.
“We’re trying to figure out what makes the most sense,” Roberts said.
Kershaw was one of the last players to leave the ballpark. A few reporters approached his locker as he scanned scouting reports of the Chicago hitters.
When he woke up Friday, he had already turned the page, thinking ahead to his next assignment. If the Dodgers stall in the NLCS, he reckoned, his heroics would fade into dust.
“It was a really fun night,” Kershaw said. “It’s something that will be really cool if we win this series, and win the next series. But if we don’t, I guess it is kind of cool, but people will forget about it really fast.”
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes
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