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Kershaw goes 3 innings vs. Mets in DL return

Left-hander allows two runs, strikes out four in first start since May 31
MLB.com @_dadler

NEW YORK -- It didn't take long for Clayton Kershaw to announce he was back.

Coming off the disabled list Saturday night for his first start since the end of May, the Dodgers' ace stepped onto the rubber at Citi Field to face Brandon Nimmo, the Mets' best hitter this season, leading off the game. Kershaw struck him out on three pitches.

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NEW YORK -- It didn't take long for Clayton Kershaw to announce he was back.

Coming off the disabled list Saturday night for his first start since the end of May, the Dodgers' ace stepped onto the rubber at Citi Field to face Brandon Nimmo, the Mets' best hitter this season, leading off the game. Kershaw struck him out on three pitches.

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Kershaw pumped in fastballs at 91.2 mph and 91.7 mph for the first two strikes -- encouraging numbers, given Kershaw's career-low fastball velocity in the start before he hit the DL with a lower back strain -- then dropped the hammer on Nimmo, a signature curveball for a called strike three.

It wasn't totally smooth sailing from there -- Kershaw allowed a pair of runs on five hits and a walk in his three innings, needing 55 pitches to get nine outs. But he also struck out four and, most importantly, came through healthy. The Dodgers eventually pulled away from the Mets to win, 8-3.

"Good to be back," Kershaw said. "Now I can focus on getting better. Health-wise, I'm all there now, it's just a matter of performance. It's a good first step.

"It wasn't great, obviously. I think there were some things that were encouraging. A few mistakes. Gave up too many hits. But I think I know what I need to work on."

The abbreviated start was the Dodgers' plan for Kershaw coming into the game, as it was just his second start since May 1 and his first since May 31, after stints on the DL for the back injury and left biceps tendinitis. Kershaw forewent a Minor League rehab start with Triple-A Oklahoma City to pitch in Flushing, using a threatening weather forecast in Omaha to convince management to let him start against the Mets.

"Pitching a rehab game is to make sure you're healthy, right? So I think tonight, same thing," Kershaw said. "Proved I'm healthy, and now it's just a matter of performance. … The argument, maybe, going forward is how to continue pitching in the big leagues and maybe not have that 110-120 pitch count."

Kershaw's longer second and third innings after a smooth first Saturday made the decision to take him out easy, manager Dave Roberts said. New York scored in the second on back-to-back doubles by Michael Conforto and Jose Bautista to tie the game at 1-1. In the third inning, pitcher Jacob deGrom led off with a single on a hanging 0-2 curveball. With one out, Todd Frazier dribbled an infield single and with two out, Wilmer Flores ripped an RBI single to left field.

Kershaw also threw an additional simulated inning after coming out of the game.

"That's kind of what we had scripted, the three" Roberts said. "I felt the most important thing was, he came out of it feeling good, feeling strong, feeling like he could go longer. As far as the stuff, I thought the slider got better, I thought the fastball coming out of his hand was good from the first pitch, and the curveball I thought was pretty good. ... For us, very encouraging."

Roberts said the Dodgers haven't decided exactly when Kershaw will make his next start, but that based on their schedule, this coming Thursday against the Cubs or Friday against the Rockies at Dodger Stadium would make the most sense.

Now that the health box has been checked, the Dodgers -- who, at 40-35 after Saturday's win, sit 2 1/2 games back of the D-backs in the National League West -- can work on getting their most important player back to maximum capacity. But for the purposes of a first start back, just having Kershaw back on the mound, looking like himself, was enough.

"For me -- for us -- it's just more of, having him out there is such a plus," Roberts said. "A boost for all of our guys."

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw