Doug PadillaESPN Staff WriterCloseDoug covers the Los Angeles Dodgers for ESPN.com. He joined ESPN Chicago in July 2010 and covered the Chicago White Sox for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000 through the 2015 season.
Kershaw had his second-worst outing of the season Sunday night against the Pirates, giving up four runs on nine hits. A day later, as the Dodgers finished a four-game series at Pittsburgh, he was being examined for what was then labeled as minor back discomfort.
Manager Dave Roberts said he remains hopeful that Kershaw can make his next scheduled start Friday at home against the Colorado Rockies. The Dodgers begin a three-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday.
“He’s not pitching here in Milwaukee, so as we looked at his Friday start, to get him a couple of days back home makes sense,” Roberts said. “He will consult with the doctors when he gets back to L.A., and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, was not in the Dodgers’ clubhouse and was thus unavailable for comment during the media’s open access time Tuesday, although he was expected to be at Miller Park for the game against the Brewers.
Dodgers back specialist Robert Watkins will oversee the examination on Kershaw.
“With who [Kershaw] is, and with any of our players, you want to be prudent,” Roberts said. “It was the training staff and him conferring and feeling like [returning to Los Angeles] was the best thing for Clayton.”
Roberts originally told ESPN.com on Monday that the back issue had been an “off-and-on issue” for Kershaw. It obviously had not bothered him to the extent it did after his start against the Pirates, although he did do at least part of his post-start workout Monday morning.
“It’s been a few weeks where it has been in and out and it has felt good, then it started barking a little bit,” Roberts said. “Right now we want to get some answers.”
Kershaw has made at least 30 starts in six of the past seven seasons.
Kershaw’s ailment is the latest in a string of back issues plaguing Dodgers players. Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke went on the disabled list early in the season with back problems, and rookie Trayce Thompson has dealt with a sore lower back the past three weeks that has slowed his hot start.
Injuries to starting pitchers as a whole have affected the Dodgers this year. It started in spring training, when Brett Anderson went down with a back problem that required surgery. Mike Bolsinger went down with an oblique strain. By that time, pitching prospect Frankie Montas was out after rib resection surgery. In May, Alex Wood was placed on the DL with an elbow injury.
The Dodgers do have two pitchers — Brandon McCarthy (Tommy John surgery) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (shoulder surgery) — nearing the end of minor league rehab assignments, but neither will be available Friday if Kershaw is unable to make his next scheduled start.
The Dodgers probably will have to call up Carlos Frias to start Friday if Kershaw can’t pitch, although Bolsinger is an option as well. They’re expected to officially call up right-hander Brock Stewart to make his major league debut Wednesday against the Brewers.
Kershaw is in the midst of one of the best seasons ever by a pitcher. Even with the loss to the Pirates on Sunday, he is 11-2 with a National League-leading 1.79 ERA. He also leads the NL with 121 innings, 145 strikeouts, 0.727 WHIP and 0.7 walks per nine innings.
It all speaks to the dominant season Kershaw is having and what a blow it would be to a 42-36 club if he misses significant time. The Dodgers are 14-2 when Kershaw pitches this season and 28-34 when he does not.
That is why Roberts stared straight ahead and did not blink when asked what the team would do Friday if Kershaw is unavailable.
Said Roberts, “We’re not thinking about that.”