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Dodgers waiting for others to show up while Kershaw is out

Los Angeles Times sports writer Andy McCullough and columnist Bill Plaschke discuss the Dodgers' woes and let you know if you can panic now.

Clayton Kershaw politely invited the media to his locker Tuesday afternoon for his first interview since being diagnosed with biceps tendinitis. But, his left shoulder hurting, he wasn't really in the mood.

"How long have you been dealing with this issue?" asked the first questioner.

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"Ask a better question," said Kershaw.

The problem is, there is no better question. There is no easy question. There are only questions and questions and questions.

"I don't think I've ever had an arm problem before," said Kershaw, raising the biggest questions of all.

If he's never had this injury, how can anyone even guess about the timetable for his comeback? If this is the first time for his left shoulder, could this be the first of more problems with his shoulder? Even if he comes back within a couple of weeks as most expect, what does this mean for the rest of his season?

This could be nothing. This could be everything. But, face it, the first shoulder injury for a 30-year-old who has carried a franchise on that shoulder for a decade is probably something, and it's not good.

Kershaw sounded optimistic about a relatively quick return, saying, "This is first shoulder [injury] I've ever had ... I've been fortunate as far as that goes ... luckily the MRI came back pretty clean. ... That's a good sign, and hopefully it won't be too long."

Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill reacts after giving up a two-run home run to Arizona's John Ryan during the fourth inning of a game Tuesday.
Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill reacts after giving up a two-run home run to Arizona's John Ryan during the fourth inning of a game Tuesday. (Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

Kershaw also raised the possibility of this being a freak occurrence, saying, "Maybe it's just a fluke injury and it won't ever happen again."

But none of this changes the fact that this season, close observers can see that he's been a different Kershaw, and maybe this shoulder issue is the reason why.

He's not throwing as consistently hard. He doesn't have the same control. His home-run rate has doubled.

He walked six in a game against one of the worst teams in baseball, the Miami Marlins. He has allowed at least one home run in five of his seven starts.

His ERA is still a minuscule 2.86, and he's still struck out 48 batters in 44 innings, but most of his starts have felt like a grind, like he's laboring in ways he's never labored before.

Back in the spring, who would have thought that Kershaw's ability to opt out of his contract would be the least of the Dodgers worries?

"You look at the radar gun and it's a tick down," acknowledged manager Dave Roberts. "I know some of it might be mechanics driven ... but we're just encouraged the scan came back clear."

Nothing is physically broken, but nothing seems quite right. It could just be a byproduct of the Dodgers' short winter. Or it could be a result of all those long summers and short-rest Octobers.

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When asked if he thought the injury was a result of age and innings, Kershaw said, "I don't think so. ... I've joked about being old, but I don't think it has anything to do with deterioration."

He said he just needed to work on his mechanics with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, noting, "I just think there's some things I can do to get better. Physically, I've felt great this whole year. The back, everything, has felt really good. So I'm not worried about deteriorating."

He's always optimistic. He's always the fighter. But this is something he's never fought before, so who knows what happens next?

The Dodgers have played well without Kershaw in the past, but this is a different team, a team lacking in the urgency seen in the previous five division champions.

"It feels a little different ... but you have to keep fighting, man," said reliever Kenley Jansen on Tuesday.

It feels different because it is different. They seem weary. They play unsettled. They're terribly short-handed, and lack both the focus and firepower to deal with it.

They need an ace, yet don't have a healthy one. They need a consistent bullpen stopper, yet he hasn't shown up. They need a lineup leader, yet Justin Turner is still a week from making his season debut.

"You've got to keep grinding until you find it," said Jansen. "We just got to find that gear."

Clayton Kershaw could be that gear, yet what if they have to spend the rest of the summer searching for him?

Ask a better question.

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Get more of Bill Plaschke's work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke

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