GLENDALE -- Confirming that Clayton Kershaw's left shoulder led to his current shutdown, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on Sunday said his ace is “encouraged” with recent improvement. The lefty remains the scheduled Opening day starter and is expected to play catch on Monday.
"We're optimistic that it won't be anything of note and he'll be ready to start for us on Opening Day," said president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman during Sunday's telecast of the Dodgers' Cactus League matchup with the Angels.
Kershaw hasn’t thrown since pitching live batting practice on Wednesday, after which he told Roberts his arm “didn’t feel right.” Roberts gave Kershaw Thursday off.
“Not sure how many throws or how far, but just to get a ball in his hands is a good thing,” Roberts said of Kershaw playing catch on Monday. “He and the training staff feel really good about that.”
So much was made last year of Kershaw’s drop in velocity, Roberts wouldn’t rule out the possibility that, after an offseason devoted to syncing his body and delivery, the current discomfort might have resulted from reaching for velocity against batters after throwing two bullpen sessions with no apparent issues.
“You know what? It might be,” Roberts said. “And I think that a lot of times Clayton is driving that fact of velocity. For us, he has so many different weapons with his ability to command his weapons and sequencing the weapons, he’s still an elite, elite pitcher. Now, getting into Spring Training and the season it’s about getting guys out. Cranking it back up just didn’t feel right. So just take the foot off the gas, get some treatment and introduce him again, he’ll feel better. That’s our hope.”
Roberts said Kershaw has adjusted his pitch mix and sequencing in recent years, a reference to last year’s reliance on the slider instead of the fastball. Nonetheless, Kershaw has never mastered a change-up and the gap between his fastball and slider speeds has narrowed, making it harder for him to trip up the batter’s timing.
Asked if this is cause for concern, Roberts said, “Not at all. It’s better now than later. We have plenty of time to address this, reset and see where it takes us. We’re hopeful. Talking to Clayton and the training staff, there’s no cause for concern.”
Roberts said Kershaw is on anti-inflammatory medication, but has not needed an MRI.
“He’s in a good place. He feels good,” said Roberts. “He understands that it’s a process. We’re all on the same page. We don’t want to rush him back. If we’re going to take a few days to take a step back, let’s take advantage of it. In talking to him, he’s encouraged. Speaking honestly, there’s no reason he won’t be an elite pitcher with his pitch mix, irregardless of velocity. I believe and the organization believes that. But Clayton’s got to believe that.”
Ryu looks good in spring debut
Hyun-Jin Ryu started for the Dodgers in their 13-9 win over the Angels on Sunday and pitched a scoreless inning, but just the fact that he started the second game of the Cactus League schedule was an achievement. Ryu said it’s a pleasure not having to worry about rehabbing from injury at the start of Spring Training for the first time since 2014.
“I’m not really concerned about any body parts, in terms of my health, and I think I did well in today’s outing,” he said.
Ryu has been tinkering with a slider, but the lefty didn’t throw it on Sunday. He said he borrowed the grip from another Korean pitcher, Suk-min Yoon, and it requires jamming the ball deep in his hand. But Ryu said it’s difficult to throw with his small hand, so he expects to take some time before he brings it into a game.
Omar Estevez, Matt Beaty and DJ Peters homered in consecutive at-bats in the seventh inning. It was Peters’ second home run of the game.
Roberts said the 6-foot-6 Peters has shortened his swing without losing power. Peters said he’s benefiting from working again with new Dodgers hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc, who worked with Peters as a consultant from 2016-17.
“Love Robert. Once I heard he got the job, I texted him how glad I was to have him back,” said Peters, ranked No. 9 among MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Dodgers Prospects.
• Cody Bellinger returned to action on Sunday after a precautionary day of rest for a sore back. Roberts said Bellinger might play in Tuesday’s game. Non-roster invitee Ezequiel Carrera started in right field on Sunday, with A.J. Pollock getting his first Dodgers start in center.
• New to the Dodgers is former versatile infielder Placido Polanco as a special assistant. Polanco, 43, played 16 seasons, was a two-time All-Star, won three Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger and was a longtime Philly teammate of Chase Utley.
Brock Stewart starts for the Dodgers at 12:05 p.m. PT on Monday against Christian Bergman and the Cubs at Camelback Ranch. Kenta Maeda will start on Tuesday against Ian Kennedy and the Royals in Surprise.