PHOENIX — Clayton Kershaw will make his season debut Sunday as the Dodgers go for a series win against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner started the regular season on the injured list with back stiffness but recovered quickly, throwing bullpen sessions earlier this week before being activated Sunday.
“There’s just a different demeanor in the clubhouse on his pitch day,” manager Dave Roberts said Saturday night. “We’re happy for the Dodgers, but I think a tick more we’re just happy for Clayton because he worked so hard to get back.”
Kershaw’s back issue popped up during a training session two days before the team’s season-opener. Instead of making his franchise-record ninth opening day start, he watched from the stands.
“The timing couldn’t have been worse,” Kershaw said the next day. “Working all that time trying to stay ready, I really felt so good going into the season. It was pretty defeating honestly. Just like, how is this happening right now?”
Kershaw has battled back injuries previously in his career, including a more than two-month-long absence in 2016 with a herniated disc.
Slumping slugger Cody Bellinger was given the day off, and the Dodgers responded by homering four times in an 11-2 rout of the Diamondbacks.
This time, however, the left-hander was confident that his stay on the IL wouldn’t be extended. After rookie Dustin May pitched in Kershaw’s place the first two times through the rotation, Kershaw will be trying to help the Dodgers take three of four from Arizona and clinch a winning record on this nine-game road trip.
“We’ll keep an eye on him,” Roberts said when asked about Kershaw’s stamina. “We don’t really know a number right now, as far as pitch count.”
Kershaw’s return coincides with a key absence in Sunday’s lineup, as hot-hitting shortstop Corey Seager will be unavailable with a left quad issue.
Seager, who is leading the team in hits and home runs and is second in RBIs, was removed early from Saturday’s game with what Roberts initially told reporters was a calf cramp resulting from a foul ball the previous night.
However, Roberts said Sunday that Seager’s quad issue — which is a separate incident — also factored into his early exit Saturday. The manager said the shortstop is day-to-day.
“I think [it was caused] a little bit by dehydration,” Roberts said. “It was hot in here and there might have been a little cramping. We really don’t know but just, where we’re at, we wanted to make sure that nothing else comes of it.”
Chris Taylor is at shortstop with Seager out, batting fifth. Center fielder Cody Bellinger returned to the lineup after getting Saturday off amid a slow start.
Austin Barnes will be the catcher for Kershaw’s first start. To make room for the pitcher on the roster, right-handed pitcher Mitch White was optioned Sunday.
1. Mookie Betts — Right field
2. Max Muncy — First base
3. Justin Turner — Third Base
4. Cody Bellinger — Center field
5. Chris Taylor — Shortstop
6. AJ Pollock - Left field
7. Joc Pederson — Designated hitter
8. Kiké Hernandez — Second base
9. Austin Barnes - Catcher
Clayton Kershaw — Starting pitcher