Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw isn’t starting until Wednesday. Here’s why

Clayton Kershaw throws during a spring training game
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw will make his first start of the season Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

Clayton Kershaw isn’t injured, and didn’t have any sort of late-spring setback.

Instead, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts offered a simple explanation for why the three-time Cy Young Award winner won’t make his season debut until the team’s fifth game next Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins.

The Dodgers wanted the left-hander to get as built up as possible for his first start of the year.


Before this season, Kershaw had been the Dodgers opening day starter every year when healthy since 2011. He had not been slotted lower than fourth in a season-opening rotation.

Roberts, however, believes having Kershaw pitch the fifth game will be best for the pitcher and the team.

The decision made it possible for Kershaw to face batters during a team workout Thursday, throwing five innings and 75 pitches. That, Roberts told reporters, should enable Kershaw to be built up to an almost normal strength for his first regular-season start, even after a lockout-shortened spring training.

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“To have him in the five slot allowed for him to get the full build up,” Roberts said. “So now for him to go five [innings] and 75 [pitches], to then go into his first start, gives us a better chance not only that day, but also days following with him and managing the bullpen. That’s the thought behind it.”

Kershaw being healthy to start the season has been a pleasant surprise for the Dodgers. After missing the playoffs last season with an elbow injury, Kershaw waited until January to begin his offseason throwing program.

However, he was able to get caught up during spring training. He not only made four Cactus League starts, but also was sharp in each one, finishing the spring with a 3.09 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 11⅔ innings.

“I told Clayton, this is as good as I’ve seen him from day one in spring training in all my six years with him, seven years now,” Roberts said. “So he’s in a really good spot.”

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DH decisions

The Dodgers’ opening day lineup contained a surprise, with Justin Turner slotted into the designated hitter’s spot and Max Muncy playing third base.

Roberts described the decision as a coin flip, and said Turner will return to his normal spot at third Saturday. The manager also indicated that Turner, Muncy and catcher Will Smith likely will see the most time at DH, which is being introduced to the National League permanently this season.

“I know Justin feels comfortable in that role. Max is going to have to embrace that role, because he’s going to be a DH at times,” Roberts said. “There’s really nothing next-level thinking about that.”

Injury updates

Roberts said left-handed reliever Victor González ended up on the injured list to begin the season because he felt soreness in his elbow following a bullpen session last week.

“The days following, it dissipated,” Roberts said of González’s elbow discomfort. “But it was just something, that kind of flare up, we just wanted to take a step back. But arm strength is there. He feels good. So we’ve got him on a program.”

Roberts said González, Phil Bickford (who was optioned to triple A to begin the season as he continues to get built up), Tommy Kahnle and Caleb Ferguson (the last two coming back from Tommy John surgery) should be able to rejoin the team within three to four-and-a-half weeks.