Kershaw's IL stint has pitching staff walking tightrope

Veteran ace optimistic he won't miss much time with pelvic joint inflammation

May 14th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw’s resurgent 2022 campaign has been put on hold, at least temporarily.

The left-hander, who was slated to pitch Friday against the Phillies at Dodger Stadium, was instead placed on the 15-day injured list with right SI (pelvic) joint inflammation. Left-hander Garrett Cleavinger was recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City to take Kershaw’s place on the 26-man roster. Walker Buehler, originally scheduled to start Saturday, got bumped up to Friday and allowed five runs in five innings in the Dodgers’ 12-10 loss in 10 innings.

Coming off an outing of seven scoreless innings against the Cubs on May 7, Kershaw looked and felt good during his between-starts bullpen session in Pittsburgh. However, the joint locked up following the team’s flight back to Los Angeles, according to manager Dave Roberts. An MRI revealed no structural damage, and Kershaw received an epidural injection on Thursday, a treatment he’s gotten for past back issues.

“I don’t feel great right now, but hopefully I’ll feel good and be back out there soon,” said Kershaw.

Roberts said he believes there’s a “common thread” between this and some of the ailments Kershaw’s dealt with in the past. Kershaw spent time on the IL with back-related injuries in 2016 (disc herniation), '17 (low back strain), '18 (lower back discomfort) and '20 (back stiffness); he has previously responded well to epidural treatments. He also missed significant time last season with various arm-related issues.

Kershaw has been excellent this year, starting with his season debut of seven perfect innings against the Twins in Minnesota. Through five starts, he has a 1.80 ERA and a 0.73 WHIP, and he’s struck out 32 and while walking just three. On April 30, he became the Dodgers’ franchise career strikeout leader.

The decision to place him on the IL was made with an eye to making sure he can be healthy come October, especially given that he ended up having to miss the entirety of L.A.’s playoff run last year.

“I think that he came back here to give us a chance to win the World Series, and so there’s going to have to be some managing of workload,” said Roberts. “With his experiences and [his] intelligence, he knows when to push, when not to push, and right now is not that time. So to take a step back and kind of listen to your body, it’s the prudent way to handle it.”

Still, the timing of the loss is tough for the Dodgers in the short term. In the middle of a stretch of 14 games in 12 days without any off-days, they could ill afford to lose a rotation member, especially one as integral as Kershaw. In addition to Buehler moving up, Julio Urías will also move up a day and start Saturday instead of in Sunday’s finale. Although the change meant both pitchers would be going on regular rest, the club had been hoping to give them each an extra day off between starts, and Buehler’s start ended up being his most labored appearance of the season, in which he gave up season highs in runs and hits (nine). He needed 75 pitches to get through four innings, though he recovered a bit with an efficient seven-pitch fifth.

Still, it wasn’t as long an outing as Buehler would’ve liked, and the Dodgers ended up using six relievers to get through the rest of the game, an issue compounded by Alex Vesia’s inability to record an out in the top of the sixth and going to extras.

“I felt good in the bullpen, then the first inning went by, and it kind of went haywire a couple times on me,” said Buehler. “It’s a long year, and this is start No. 7; hopefully, we’ll have 30-something by the end. There’ll be some good ones and some bad ones.”

For now, Sunday’s starter is officially to be determined. The picture is further complicated by the upcoming doubleheader on Tuesday against the D-backs. It’s now all but certain that right-hander Ryan Pepiot will be called back up to slot into one of those openings. Pepiot, the organization’s No. 6 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, made his Major League debut on Wednesday and threw three scoreless innings.

Left-hander David Price, who has been on the COVID-19 IL since April 24, is not a candidate, with Roberts saying anything beyond five or six hitters for the veteran right now “just doesn’t seem feasible.” Right-handers Andre Jackson and Michael Grove are on the 40-man roster and have been stretching out as starters. Jackson, who is currently with Triple-A Oklahoma City, made three appearances for the Dodgers in 2021. Grove, currently at Double-A Tulsa, is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Dodgers' No. 23 prospect.

“I don’t think that the last couple nights really impacted [us] as far as the starter [situation], but getting some length out of Julio certainly would be helpful,” said Roberts.