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Kershaw enters '20 off 'truly healthy' offseason

@kengurnick
February 16, 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Clayton Kershaw threw his second bullpen session at Camelback Ranch on Sunday, which doesn’t sound like a big deal unless you’ve forgotten about last year -- when his shoulder hurt, he never pitched in a Spring Training game and he missed the first three weeks of the

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Clayton Kershaw threw his second bullpen session at Camelback Ranch on Sunday, which doesn’t sound like a big deal unless you’ve forgotten about last year -- when his shoulder hurt, he never pitched in a Spring Training game and he missed the first three weeks of the regular season.

Through that prism, a routine bullpen session is a really big deal for Kershaw.

“I feel a lot better,” he said. “It’s fun. It feels good. Throughout the course of the season I felt pretty good, but to have a truly healthy offseason, I think I knew what to do a little better. I did do something different this offseason. I never really did stop throwing. I took a week off, then played catch twice or three times a week leading into the actual throwing program. It’s the first year I’ve done that.

“It makes a lot of sense to me. It gets harder and harder to ramp up as you go. I think rest is really important, but sometimes active rest -- just being sedentary and not moving your arm at times -- can cause more damage than good. So, I kept my arm moving and, right now, feel great. We’ll see if it pays off.”

Notes: Stripling's new changeup; Nelson, May

One of the sidebar conversations of this early camp is Kershaw’s weight, with reporters guessing how many pounds he has shed from last year.

“Not a ton, maybe six or seven [pounds],” he said. “Having a full, healthy offseason to focus on just getting better with all that encompasses and not really worried about health, you have time to make gains. Overall, my body’s in a great spot. Legs, arm, everything.”

With a history of back and more recent shoulder issues, the soon-to-be 32-year-old Kershaw said this was his first healthy offseason in years, capped with the birth of his and his wife Ellen’s third child and second son, Cooper Ellis. (Oldest daughter Cali came up with Cooper, while the middle name is a tribute to one of Kershaw’s best friends and former batterymate, A.J. Ellis.)

“I can’t remember the last healthy offseason. It’s been a few years,” he said. “We’ll see if it makes a difference. I’m optimistic. Last year, I had to miss the first few weeks of the season, but still made a decent amount of starts. Hopefully this year I can do that throughout the season.”

The bitter ending of his 12th season -- with Kershaw, in relief, allowing a pair of home runs in the Game 5 elimination loss to Washington -- obscured another All-Star season for him thanks to a 16-5 record with a 3.03 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He finished in the top 10 in MLB for ERA, wins, winning percentage, quality starts, opponent batting average, opponents OBP, WHIP, walks per nine innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio. In August he passed Sandy Koufax for most strikeouts by a Dodgers lefty, and at 2,464 punchouts, he trails runner-up Don Drysdale by 22 and franchise leader Don Sutton by 232.

“If you were to tell me last Spring Training I’d be able to make [28] starts, I might not have believed you,” he said. “Going into this season feeling the way I do, I’d be surprised if I didn’t make every single one. That’s exciting.”

And the weight of carrying the team is no longer on his shoulders. Walker Buehler is an emerging ace, and the Dodgers have a former Cy Young Award winner in David Price now slotted in as the third starter.

“That’s the beauty of being on this team,” he said. “We added [Mookie Betts], we added David Price. Walker continues to get better. [Julio Urías] is going to have the reins taken off. We signed [Alex Wood] back. Jimmy Nelson looks good, [Ross Stripling] looks really good. We’ve got a lot of guys. Dustin May’s going to get better, Tony Gonsolin’s going to get better. There’s just so many. It’s just the signs of a good team.”

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