Clayton Kershaw met his Dodgers teammates in Phoenix on Tuesday, completed a workout inside the haven from heat that is Chase Field, and pronounced himself recovered from the lower-back strain that has forced him to miss his last two starts.
"I feel healthy," Kershaw said before the Dodgers lost 6-3 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. "I think now it's just a matter of building back up at a good pace and, obviously, understanding where we're at and the timeline and all that stuff. I don't feel like I've lost much. But, being a starter, you've gotta build your innings back and all that. So, it's gonna take a little bit of time to do that."
Kershaw hurt his back during his July 23 start at Dodger Stadium. The initial estimate for his absence was four to six weeks, though the team never announced it as such and Kershaw disputed published reports.
Since last week, he has pushed to resume throwing off a mound. Before his team squandered a late lead to lose Tuesday, Manager Dave Roberts said he expects that to happen this weekend at Dodger Stadium, after the team concludes its current nine-game trip.
Once the left-hander proves capable of that, the Dodgers will simulate a game for him to pitch, replete with breaks between innings. The last box to check will be a minor league start on rehab assignment.
The prerequisites mean he won't make his return until more than four weeks have passed since his injury.
"If you're not throwing innings, if you're not sitting down and getting back up, you inherently lose a little bit of your stamina and endurance, probably," Kershaw said, noting that he had taken only a few days off from throwing. "I'm gonna have to simulate all of that at some point, go through the whole bullpen, sim game, rehab, all that stuff. But I feel healthy right now, so that's good."
He said he was not surprised to feel quick improvement. Immediately, he discerned the injury was not as severe as the herniated disk he suffered in the same area a year ago, when he missed 75 days. The ensuing MRI exam assuaged any lingering concerns when it confirmed there was no disk damage.
Sometimes speaking of the team as if he were not part of it, Kershaw said he was pleased to see the Dodgers doing so well without him. Including the game in which he was hurt, the team has won 12 times in 14 tries, galloping along on a pace that would challenge the sport's all-time best.
"Everything's pretty good right now," Kershaw said. "It's fun to see the publicity these guys are getting now that they're winning so many games. It's fun to see them playing so well. But as far as breaking records and everything, I don't think we need to pay attention to it. I don't think we really care."
He said he sensed his teammates were focused on the playoffs, which he referred to as "an 11-game sprint."
As new Dodgers right-hander Yu Darvish said last week, Kershaw confirmed he told Darvish at the All-Star game he was looking forward to welcoming him to the team at the July 31 trade deadline. But Kershaw claimed he was joking when he encountered Darvish in the Marlins Park weight room.
"Andrew [Friedman] and Farhan [Zaidi] made me look good," Kershaw said of the Dodgers top executives, both of whom are in Phoenix for the series with Arizona.
Kershaw brushed off concerns that the club will have trouble finding innings for all of its starting pitchers come playoff time. Two men who have pitched past postseason games as Dodgers, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu, are now unlikely to make any October starts, if they even make the Dodgers roster.
No matter, Kershaw said. It will all sort itself out, he said, pointing out that it repeatedly has throughout this improbable season.
"Thanks to me," Kershaw said, "somebody's always hurt."