Column: Is Clayton Kershaw done as a Dodger? Decision on future looms for injured pitcher
He lowered his head. He slumped his shoulders. He slowed his steps.
He kept the baseball.
When Clayton Kershaw trudged off the mound in the second inning Friday night because of left forearm discomfort, it could have been just another painful chapter in the recent saga of a Hall of Fame Dodger in physical decline.
Or it could have been goodbye.
Trea Turner hit two homers, including a grand slam, in an 8-6 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, but Clayton Kershaw’s health once again becomes a concern.
It might have also ended his career as a Dodger.
Kershaw is a free agent after this season and has given no hints about his future, preferring to let his pitching do his talking, and on Friday it was supposed to roar. He was supposed to end his regular season here in glory, his 100th Dodger Stadium victory, a reminder to both him and the team of his 13 years of massive impact, a precursor to a second consecutive October confirmation of greatness.
Instead, after being escorted from the mound by manager Dave Roberts barely 30 minutes into the game as stunned fans slowly stood and cheered, Kershaw ended his season sitting alone on the dugout bench, hunched over, staring at the messy ground.
He missed more than two months this summer because of a similar injury. He knew what this meant. He knew it wasn’t good.
If this really was his Dodgers farewell, it was as unfair as it was ugly.
“It’s a tough blow, obviously,” Kershaw said quietly afterward. “Just felt something there in my elbow, forearm. Kind of the same thing I’ve been dealing with. Just got bad enough to where I couldn’t keep going tonight ... haven’t quite wrapped my head around all that yet.”
One thing he understands is that he will miss the postseason, and that clearly pains him even more than the elbow.
“The biggest thing was is I wanted to be a part of this team going through October, this team is special, you saw what this team is capable of doing tonight,” he said. “I’ve known that, and I wanted to be a part of that. That’s the hardest part for me right now, just knowing that chances are, it’s not looking great for October right now.”
A day later, Kershaw was put on the 10-day injured list and Roberts confirmed that the team believed Kershaw was lost for the playoffs.
“I think so,” Roberts said in a Saturday Zoom call. “There’s always a chance, but I think, right now, where we’re at, we’re going to proceed with that mindset.”
After Friday’s game, during which he had given up three runs across 1 2/3 innings, Kershaw addressed his future precisely as he has addressed it before. Meaning, he didn’t address it at all.
“I’ve said this before, my future is going take care of itself. I’m not really worried about that right now,” he said. “I really wanted to be a part of the moment right now ... as far as anything else goes, I haven’t wrapped my head around it, and I don’t plan to anytime soon.”
If he’s not leaving, then why did he keep the baseball when he was walking off the mound Friday night?
“I was just shocked,” he said. “I honestly had no idea I was holding onto the ball. I probably should have given it to Doc.”
San Francisco beat San Diego to clinch at least a share of the NL West, and topping the Dodgers for a division title would be gravy on a special season.
Roberts, who had visited the mound with trainer Neil Rampe after Kershaw gave up five scalding hits amid several winces, also appeared numb.
“It was difficult, it was his last home start, you just don’t know what the future will predict, so I wanted it to be special for him and his family,” Roberts said. “It didn’t end the way we hoped.”
So, literally, where does Clayton Kershaw go from here?
Well, about a month from now, he probably will have choices.
Does he accept the “statue contract” that the Dodgers will surely offer him? It would be a one- or two-year deal to ensure he retires as a Dodger, thus leading to the sculpting of a statue. The deal would be similar to the two-year deal the Lakers gave to an injured Kobe Bryant at the end of his career to facilitate his farewell tour.
Or, with nothing left to prove in Los Angeles, does he return to his beloved Dallas-area home to play with the Texas Rangers?
Or, if Friday’s arm injury is serious and requires surgery or a lengthy rehabilitation, does he just retire?
Some wonder if the competitive Kershaw would be happy remaining on a Dodgers team where he is now the fourth-best starter. Even if he wasn’t injured, he might not be a lock to be a playoff starter this season, nor would he be guaranteed to make his annual opening day start next year.
Kershaw, 33, is no longer the Dodgers’ ace, and who knows how much that matters to him? He’s finally accomplished the one thing that had eluded him — a World Series championship — and who knows if that’s enough to allow him to close his Dodgers chapter?
These questions wouldn’t be necessary if Kershaw had been willing or able to work out an extension before now, but that hasn’t happened, and Kershaw hasn’t seemed willing to push for it.
Kershaw fans probably looked longingly at this week’s news that the St. Louis Cardinals had reached agreement on a one-year extension with Adam Wainwright, their version of Kershaw. The deal essentially makes Wainwright, 40, a Cardinal for life after spending 16 years there.
After the announcement Wainwright said, “I don’t want to be anywhere else. Who am I kidding?”
Clayton Kershaw has yet to say any such thing about the Dodgers. For now, his future here will remain as muddled as Friday night, when he lost his season but kept the baseball.
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