In LA's historic win No. 111, Kershaw K's 9 in final NLDS tuneup

Dodgers have not announced which left-hander will start Game 1

October 6th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- There was a level of uncertainty when returned to the Dodgers in March. Kershaw, who ended the 2021 season on the injured list with left elbow discomfort, didn’t pick up a baseball until January, significantly later than his usual preparation.

Kershaw erased any doubts or concerns early, making his first scheduled start during Spring Training. Since then, he has battled a pair of back injuries that forced him to miss some time. But when healthy, Kershaw has been one of the game’s best.

The likely future Hall of Famer was sharp in his last regular season tuneup, allowing one run on one hit and striking out nine over five innings in the Dodgers’ 6-1 win over the Rockies on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.

“Today was good,” Kershaw said. “I think I felt a little bit better today than I did, stuff-wise, in the last one. Felt like my spin -- slider, curveball -- were a little bit better, a little bit sharper today, which was good. Overall, thankful for another year.”

Kershaw had all three pitches working, recording 14 swings-and-misses. His lone mistake was a 2-2 four-seamer that caught too much of the plate against Ezequiel Tovar, who hit his first Major League home run in the second inning. After that, Kershaw retired the last 10 batters he faced.

While Kershaw was effective all year long, he was particularly good since coming off his second IL stint on Sept. 1. Kershaw went 5-0 with a 1.54 ERA over his last seven starts, striking out 49 in 41 innings. He finished the season with a 2.28 ERA, his lowest mark in a 162-game season since 2016 (1.69). Kershaw also passed Cy Young for 24th all-time on the career strikeout list.

“I think it’s surprising considering the state we were in watching him come off the mound in San Francisco. It didn’t look good at all,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “To get him back was something that was only a hope at that point in time and then to get him back and pitch the way he has, it’s icing on the cake.”

Now that the regular season is over, it remains to be seen when Kershaw will make his next start. For a while, it appeared Julio Urías would be the starter in Game 1 of the National League Division Series with Kershaw following in Game 2. But the Dodgers aren’t quite ready to make that official, insisting they still have a decision to make between the two left-handers.

The Dodgers will play either the Mets or Padres in the NLDS. But Roberts said the opponent won’t factor into their decision regarding a Game 1 starter.

A big part of the Dodgers’ decision will come down to which pitcher they believe gives them the best chance to make two strong starts on full rest. Because of the condensed postseason schedule, there is no longer a day off between Games 4 and 5. That means the Game 1 starter would be fully rested for a potential Game 5. The Game 2 starter, however, is likely done for the series unless needed to pitch on short rest.

The Dodgers don’t want to tip their hand and have all weekend to decide between two very solid options. Given Kershaw’s history with back injuries, including two this season, the Dodgers will always lean on the side of caution with him. Urías, on the other hand, has experience pitching on short rest, most notably during the 2020 World Series-winning season.

Los Angeles does feel confident, regardless of how it ultimately decides to line up its starting rotation. After all, with the win in Game 162, the Dodgers became just the second NL team in history to win at least 111 games in a single season, joining the 1906 Cubs, who won 116. 

But all that matters is if they can win 11 more. Kershaw will be right in the middle of the action. 

“You think back in March, thinking about your life and different options and things like that, [pitching in the postseason] is what you want to do,” Kershaw said. “It doesn’t mean it’s just going to come easy. Obviously it’s going to be a grind, it’s going to be a challenge, but that’s why I’m here.”