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Kershaw eyes 75-80 pitches in final rehab start

Dodgers lefty clocked at 88-91 mph as he builds strength at Triple-A
@kengurnick
April 5, 2019

DENVER -- Clayton Kershaw said he felt fine the day after his Triple-A rehab start in Oklahoma City, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the left-hander will probably make one more rehab start before returning to the big league rotation. "Velocity started getting better as he went through the outing,"

DENVER -- Clayton Kershaw said he felt fine the day after his Triple-A rehab start in Oklahoma City, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the left-hander will probably make one more rehab start before returning to the big league rotation.

"Velocity started getting better as he went through the outing," said Roberts, who said Kershaw's fastball was 88-91 mph. "It picked up as he got into the start. Command and execution is more important for Clayton. With his pitch mix, if he can execute and sequence, I see no reason why he can't still be that elite pitcher."

In other words, obsessing over Kershaw's radar-gun readings is wasted effort, because they won't be in the mid-90s anymore. They weren't last year, and he still had an ERA of 2.73 and pitched nearly 200 innings (counting the postseason).

"Made it through, feel good about it and think I feel healthy," said Kershaw, 31. "Sim games are great to get your pitch count up, but actually pitching against another team, having a start time, dealing with longer innings, facing other hitters, good to get in a game-like atmosphere. Yesterday, just making sure I was healthy. Felt good about it."

Against San Antonio, Kershaw allowed two runs on four hits in 4 1/3 innings, with six strikeouts, two walks, a pickoff and a home run allowed. He will throw a bullpen session on Saturday. OKC plays at Omaha on Tuesday night, which would be a typical five days after the previous start. He made 61 pitches Thursday and said he would aim for 75-80 next time.

"The whole night he was in the 88-91 [mph] range. Actually a tick up [from Spring Training]," Roberts said. "Now you start appreciating adrenaline in a Major League game."

Kershaw, who signed a three-year, $93 million contract in November, spent the winter recalibrating his body to better sync with his mechanics after experiencing a drop in fastball velocity.

His first two bullpen sessions in Arizona went without a hitch, and he had already been named the Opening Day starter for a ninth consecutive season, but after a live batting practice session and a bullpen session two days later, Kershaw complained of shoulder discomfort.

He received anti-inflammatory medication and treatment and was shut down for several days, followed by 10 days of throwing. Although he's been healthy for several weeks, the interruption in his buildup prevented him from pitching any Spring Training games and landed him on the injured list for the fourth consecutive season.

The rehab starts are designed to build up his pitch count, while avoiding the possibility of a short big league start that compromises the bullpen.

"The way the season started, can't really have shorter outings because our bullpen is going to be taxed with guys going shorter already, definitely don't want to do that," Kershaw said. "I'd love to be able to throw 100 pitches when I come back, so we'll see what happens."

Worth noting
• Starter Rich Hill, also on the injured list, will throw off a mound on Saturday for the first time since straining his left knee on March 17. He will probably need several bullpen sessions before he's ready for a Minor League rehab assignment, so his return to the rotation probably won't be until late April or early May.

• Roberts said Joc Pederson hasn't started since Sunday because the Dodgers have seen four consecutive opposing left-handed starters but that he will start Saturday and Sunday.

"Ideally I would have liked to distribute the at-bats better for every single player, but that's impossible," Roberts said. "Somebody has to be compromised, and right now it's been Joc. But he'll be in there the next two days, and he'll have a big run in the next two weeks."

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.