Clayton Kershaw’s tanking fastball velocity rings new alarms for Dodgers’ rotation

Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers during the first inning of a 6-3 loss to the Miami Marlins.
Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers during the first inning of a 6-3 loss to the Miami Marlins on Tuesday.
(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

It was the same high windup. The same right leg kick. The same over-the-top delivery.

But it wasn’t the same Clayton Kershaw.

At 35 years old, Kershaw long ago lost the mid-90s fastball he used to boast. In his last two starts, however, his velocity has tanked to near-career lows — reigniting questions about a lingering shoulder injury that, after costing him all of July, is threatening to affect his performance for the rest of the season.

“It’s not ideal for him. But we’re going to make the most of it,” manager Dave Roberts said after the Dodgers’ 6-3 loss at Miami on Tuesday.

Julio Urías is not with the Dodgers in Miami after being arrested Sunday on suspicion of felony domestic violence. MLB could decide the next step, with a suspension possible.

Sept. 5, 2023

A week after averaging a season-low 89.6 mph with his fastball, Kershaw had his four-seamer sitting at 88.4 on Tuesday. He failed to eclipse 90 with a single pitch, according to MLB’s Baseball Savant system. And this time, poor command dogged him as well, as he matched a season high with five walks in a five-inning, three-run start.


While Kershaw insisted — repeatedly — that “I feel fine” when pressed about his shoulder, Roberts indicated the injury is continuing to affect the team’s longtime ace.

“The hope is he’s going to continue to feel better,” Roberts said Tuesday before the game. “But given where he’s at physically, it’s hard to say that’s going to happen.”

Kershaw first got hurt during a start in Colorado in late June, when he said his shoulder got “a little cranky.” The veteran went on the injured list and missed six weeks. Upon returning in early August, however, he looked sharp in back-to-back five-inning, one-run starts that lowered his earned-run average to a team-best 2.48.

Kershaw’s three starts since haven’t been nearly as smooth.

After throwing just two innings in a rain-shortened start in Cleveland last month, Kershaw’s velocity problems first popped up against the Arizona Diamondbacks last week.

Despite Roberts’ hope that Kershaw would look sharper Tuesday, the Dodgers instead witnessed more of the same, with the left-hander having to skirt danger, grind through stressful innings and find ways to compensate for his diminished velocity and command — both problems that Roberts traced to his ailing shoulder.

The Dodgers already had issues with their pitching rotation and the arrest of Julio Urías complicates the situation even more. The playoffs begin in four weeks.

Sept. 5, 2023

The question facing the Dodgers — whose already injury-depleted rotation was rocked by Julio Urías’ arrest on suspicion of felony domestic violence Sunday night — is whether Kershaw can hold up to lead the pitching staff into October.


“Just need to keep going,” Kershaw said. “There’s really nothing else to do. Just try to pitch better.”

Kershaw’s outing Tuesday could’ve been a lot worse.

He escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second inning by inducing a double play. He did the same thing in the fourth with runners on first and second. And entering the fifth, he had the Dodgers in front 2-1, his only blemish a solo home run by Jake Burger that came on a hanging changeup.

Freddie Freeman walks back to the dugout after striking out in the first inning against the Miami Marlins.
Freddie Freeman walks back to the dugout after striking out in the first inning of a 6-3 loss to the Miami Marlins on Tuesday.
(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

“You certainly see the desire to be effective,” Roberts said. “You certainly see the [will to] compete.”

But, on his 74th offering of the night, Kershaw’s inconsistent fastball finally caught up with him.

With a runner on first, he tried starting Marlins veteran Josh Bell with a first-pitch fastball. The pitch, however, was right in the middle of the strike zone. And the velocity — an unremarkable 88.2 mph — made it a meatball that Bell demolished with a thunderous swing.


By the time Kershaw turned around to watch the two-run homer sail out to center field, he already was wearing a look of disgust.

And while the Dodgers’ loss wasn’t sealed until the eighth, when reliever Ryan Yarbrough gave up back-to-back homers in what had been a tied game, it was Kershaw’s declining stuff that set off the loudest alarm bells for their season.

“I can’t pitch the way I pitched tonight,” Kershaw said. “That’s not good.”

Domestic violence accusations are a pattern for Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías and the team can no longer trust him. He can’t throw another pitch in Dodger blue.

Sept. 4, 2023

Despite Kershaw’s questionable health, the Dodgers will continue to give him turns through their rotation.

Roberts said surgery isn’t “inevitable” for Kershaw, like it was for teammate Tony Gonsolin when he tried pitching through an elbow problem. Roberts also said the team isn’t considering giving Kershaw an extended break, and that it’s more important to keep his arm fresh with consistent starts.

And Roberts was adamant that the Dodgers’ other pitching problems are not factoring into the situation.

“If he can feel like he can take the ball,” Roberts said, “then he’s going to take the baseball.”


Kershaw pointed to other areas of needed improvement. He planned to sit down with pitching coach Mark Prior on Wednesday to identify areas in his mechanics to clean up. Kershaw bemoaned his inability to stay in the strike zone, declaring “walking five is more the issue” than a decrease in velocity.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw stands in the dugout before a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 30.
(Ryan Sun / Associated Press)

And every time he was asked about his shoulder, he answered with the same three words: “I feel fine.”

Still, after he averaged better than 91 mph with his fastball for much of the season, Kershaw’s recent velocity declines are unsettling, if not ominous.

Even if his shoulder holds up over the next couple of months, the Dodgers can only hope his stuff doesn’t keep declining, as well.

“Obviously when you’re talking about lower velocity, it kind of decreases margin,” Roberts said. “But I still believe that with his pitch mix, he still can get major league hitters out.”