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While Clayton Kershaw sits out, Dodgers consider how best to utilize him

Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws a pitch in the bullpen during a workout
Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws a pitch in the bullpen during a workout at Dodger Stadium back in April 2021.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish are the scheduled starters Thursday night at Petco Park. Walker Buehler and Blake Snell started Wednesday night.

Clayton Kershaw stood in front of the Dodgers dugout Wednesday afternoon, enduring one of his least favorite parts of the job. This was a big series, with the big dogs on the mound, and Kershaw had to talk about an injury.

He has not pitched in eight weeks. His return appears to be another few weeks away, and even that timetable is etched in hope. He threw a bullpen session Tuesday, but he swatted away a question about whether the session was encouraging.

“Encouraging, not encouraging? It’s all discouraging right now, because I’m not pitching,” Kershaw said.

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He was not rude. He pushed too hard to come back too soon. His recovery got longer, as did the Dodgers’ stay in second place in the National League West.

He has nine victories this season. He has not won fewer games in a non-pandemic season since 2009, when the Dodgers opened the season here, and Hiroki Kuroda beat Jake Peavy.

“As long as my elbow doesn’t hurt, I’ll be in a good spot,” Kershaw said. “It’s been frustrating. It’s been a long time. It shouldn’t have taken this long. It’s frustrating on my part. Hopefully, I can be around for the fun part, and help us into September and October.”

Max Scherzer allows two hits and strikes out 10 as the Dodgers earn their 16th win in 18 games with a 4-0 victory over the San Diego Padres on Thursday.

Kershaw has been so good for so long that it sounds almost blasphemous to wonder how he can best help the Dodgers.

“My focus is to get back and start,” Kershaw said, “but, obviously, whatever I can do, I’ll do.”

In the 2010s, the Dodgers would routinely start Kershaw in the postseason on short rest. In 2017, and in 2018, and in 2020, the Dodgers started Kershaw in Game 1 of the World Series.

In 2021, the Dodgers could line up Buehler, Scherzer and Julio Urías in a postseason rotation, before considering Kershaw.

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They could start Kershaw, perhaps as an opener, maybe followed by Tony Gonsolin. Kershaw has seven career postseason relief appearances, so that could be an option too.

But all of that is theoretical until Kershaw can progress to pitching to hitters, and rebuild his arm strength, in a season with five weeks left.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers against the San Diego Padres.
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers against the San Diego Padres on June 22 in San Diego.
(Denis Poroy / Associated Press)

“How we end up, where we end up, as far as his buildup, everything is on the table,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s smart enough to know, if it’s a three-inning buildup, that makes sense in a certain role. If it goes perfect and we build up to a certain point and that makes sense as a starter, great.”

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In a more normal year, this would be a short story: Star pitcher might come back from injury this year, or he might run out of time and come back next year. This, however, is not a normal year.

“We want to win this year, especially with the team that we have,” Kershaw said. “There’s not many times in a career that you get this much talent on one team for a run.

“Who knows what it’s going to look like next year, and the years after that? You want to take advantage of that.”

Scherzer is a free agent this fall. So is Kenley Jansen, and so is Corey Seager, and so is Chris Taylor.

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And so is Kershaw. Who knows what it’s going to look like next year?

Four hours before game time, Kershaw wore a smile as he stood in left field, chatting happily with a man in a brown T-shirt.

The Dodgers beat the Padres 5-2 on Tuesday in San Diego to stay 2½ games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West.

The man was A.J. Ellis, for so long Kershaw’s preferred catcher with the Dodgers, now a special assistant to San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller.

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Ellis played nine years for the Dodgers, then finished his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Miami Marlins and the Padres. Kershaw has played 14 years with the Dodgers, and Ellis does not see Kershaw finishing his career anywhere else.

“No chance,” Ellis said. “He’s a one-uniform guy. He’s going to be a one-uniform guy with an amazing contingent at Cooperstown some day. It’s going to be pretty special for that to happen, and to see that No. 22 retired at Dodger Stadium, and to see a statue someday.”

Here’s hoping that Ellis is right, and here’s hoping that Kershaw gets right. This year is unsettling enough without pondering the possibility that Kershaw has already started his last game for the Dodgers.


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