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Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw misses NLCS Game 2 start with back spasms, won’t pitch Game 3

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw has been scratched from his scheduled Game 2 NLCS start against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday because of back spasms.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

The Dodgers began the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves with a clear advantage: Five talented, capable, reliable starting pitchers when the playoff format rewarded starting pitching depth more than ever. With the possibility of playing seven games in seven days, the Dodgers had more firepower than their counterparts.

That strength is now being tested. Clayton Kershaw was scratched from his scheduled Game 2 start Tuesday because of back spasms. Tony Gonsolin started in his place and gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings one day after Walker Buehler’s command trouble limited him to five innings in the Dodgers’ 5-1 Game 1 loss Monday.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Kershaw initially felt discomfort during his bullpen session at Globe Life Field on Saturday. Kershaw played catch in the outfield and threw a bullpen hours after the announcement was made Tuesday. He last pitched in Game 2 of the National League Division Series last Wednesday.

Roberts said “the likelihood is very good” that Kershaw will pitch in the NLCS, but he doesn’t know when he’ll take the mound again. Julio Urías is scheduled to start Game 3 on Wednesday. The Dodgers have not revealed a pitching plan for Game 4, although Roberts left the door ajar for Kershaw.

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“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” he said. “Right now, I know that Julio is going to start. If Clayton continues to feel better, then we’ll see.”

Kershaw was not made available to the media Tuesday.

“It’s one of those things where we tried to kick the can down the road as long as we could, and today he woke up and we felt that it wouldn’t be smart,” Roberts said. “So, we as an organization decided to push him back. I honestly don’t know what game we plan on starting him.”

Kershaw has a long history of back trouble. The left-hander missed over a month with back inflammation in 2014. In 2016, he missed more than two months with a herniated disc in his lower back. In 2017, he missed over a month with a strained lower back. In 2018, he was on the injured list for 23 days after straining his lower back again.

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This year, Kershaw was placed on the injured list with a lower back issue hours before he was slated to start on opening day July 23. He missed a turn and made his season debut Aug. 2 Roberts said Kershaw’s latest back issue isn’t related to the injury in July.

“It got better every day,” Roberts said. “Clayton is the greatest competitor I’ve been around. So to give him the opportunity to make the start today was our goal, until we couldn’t.”

Despite the delayed start, Kershaw enjoyed a resurgent season in which his fastball velocity increased after a decline in recent years. The uptick made his slider, his best pitch, more difficult to hit. His mixed in his signature curveball to produce a 2.16 ERA in 58 1/3 innings across 10 starts.

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The success rolled into the Dodgers’ first two playoff rounds. Kershaw logged eight scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts in Game 2 of the wild card series against the Milwaukee Brewers. He then held the San Diego Padres to three runs over six innings in Game 2 of the NL Division Series.

If and when he’ll pitch again remains unclear, for now.

“Going through all that he’s gone through in his career, you have to kind of give way to that a little bit, but we all have a good open line of communication,” Roberts said. “We’re going to do what’s best for Clayton and for the Dodgers when the time is right for him to pitch.”


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