Posted on September 9, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
Friday is an important day for the Los Angeles Dodgers; it is they day they welcome ace Clayton Kershaw back from the DL after more than two months away while recovering from a herniated disk. Surprisingly, the Dodgers are 14 games over .500 since Kershaw last pitched on June 26, as Los Angeles now looks like a safe bet to win the NL West and return to the postseason.
However, the Dodgers know that to close out the division and advance deep into the playoffs, they’re going to need Kershaw playing the role of ace. Thus, they are keeping their fingers crossed upon his return, hoping that he can remain healthy for the rest of the season and return to the form he had earlier this year when he was arguably having the best season of his career.
Kershaw was excellent in his only minor league rehab start, but Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt warns that Kershaw could have some rust to shake off despite dominating A-ball hitters last weekend. “To be off two months and not be in a competitive situation, everybody has to be conscious that he’s not in midseason form,” explains Honeycutt. “He wouldn’t be going out there unless he felt well enough to do it. At the same time, he still has not been in a competitive situation at the big league level, using all of his pitches.”
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Honeycutt compared Kershaw’s return Friday to 2014 when he missed the early part of the season due to a shoulder injury. That year, Kershaw threw seven shutout innings in his first start back, but soon began to struggle, losing three of his next four starts. “At that time in ’14, it was the curveball that was not as good as it can be,” Honeycutt recalls. That’s not only a control pitch, it’s a feel pitch and a release point.”
The Los Angeles pitching coach adds that in 2014 Kershaw was given more minor league rehab starts to build up his pitch count and return to form, which is not a luxury the Dodgers have this time around. Kershaw threw just 34 pitches in his minor league appearance last week before throwing around 15 more in the bullpen afterwards. This means Kershaw will be on a pitch count Friday and may continue to be in subsequent starts.
The Dodgers appear to have a plan in place for Kershaw that involves him making four starts between now and the end of the regular season. Manager Dave Roberts says the reigns will be tight on Kershaw until the Dodgers get to the postseason, at which point they will hold nothing back. “The reason he’s coming back is for the postseason,” Roberts says, adding that the they can be a “dangerous” team once they get there.
However, the Dodgers have to find a way to get Kershaw to the postseason without any setbacks. There is no guarantee Kershaw can avoid a setback to the back injury that kept him away for more than two months. But the Dodgers are comfortable putting him back on the mound at this point in the season, and all they can do is hope he can stay healthy and be the ace they need him to be when the postseason arrives.