Kershaw, the reigning Cy Young winner, has been out with a muscle strain since returning from the Australia opener. His return coincides with a very rough road trip for the Dodgers, one that has seen the team endure a number of circumstances both in and out of their control.
One day after a rain delay cut Zack Greinke’s start short, the Dodgers got a healthy dose of good news: In addition to Kershaw’s return, the team learned that Hyun-Jin Ryu could begin a throwing program and would not require an MRI after visiting with the team surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache. When Ryu returns to join a rotation that includes Kershaw, Greinke, Dan Haren and one of either Josh Beckett or Paul Maholm, the Dodgers will finally have their starting pitching at full strength.
And boy, do they need their starters to carry them.
The bullpen has been taxed to an alarming degree so far, as the Dodgers lead the league in relief appearances and extra innings. Kenley Jansen and J.P. Howell are tied for the individual league lead in appearances, and there may be a danger in overusing the bullpen this early. When the rotation is solidified, the Dodgers hope that they will not have to rely so heavily on the bullpen going forward.
Kershaw is ready to return, and he even felt he was ready to start during the Minnesota series. The Dodgers asked their ace to make two rehab starts, in which he went a combined ten innings, allowing two runs, striking out 15 while only walking three batters. This was done, of course, against minor leaguers, so Kershaw will have to quickly adapt to facing big league hitters in order to be successful.
The pitching staff this season has been very good despite some clear bullpen struggles, and they currently boast a 3.33 ERA that ranks as ninth in the big leagues, and an opponent’s batting average of .243 that ranks tenth. With the return of Kershaw, those numbers only figure to get better.
With an important series against the rival San Francisco Giants looming, the Dodgers could not have gotten Kershaw back at a better time. The Dodgers have to hope that he is able to return without missing a step, as a few dominating performances could light a fire under a team that has looked listless at times on this road trip.
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