The soon-to-be 31-year-old ace isn’t the same pitcher who was celebrating with Manny Ramirez and Chad Billingsley in their advancement to the NLCS 10 years ago. Now, Clayton Kershaw is being shutdown in Spring Training as reports cite the three-time Cy Young winner claimed he “didn’t feel right” after two bullpen sessions.
Clayton Kershaw is at camp today after he went home early yesterday. Dave Roberts said he wasn’t happy with his recent live BP or bullpen. Roberts insisted he’s not alarmed, but Kershaw won’t throw for now. No timetable.
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) February 22, 2019
Speculation that Kershaw was opting out of his seven-year contract to pitch for his hometown Texas Rangers was put to bed when he signed a new contract with the Dodgers in the offseason.
At the end of the new contract, Kershaw would be entering his age 35 season. The hot stove has been rather cold for free agents, and even more so for players in that age range.
In the past 10 years, the left-hander has cemented himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball history. Kershaw’s signature 12-6 curveball and a slider that has hitters chasing it have added to his Hall of Fame resume.
But the resume that led to accolades doesn’t resemble the pitcher who took the mound 26 times last season, and isn’t showing signs of redemption early into Spring Training.
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The reality that Kershaw will be toeing the rubber in 10 years is unrealistic, but the possibility of him going into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot selection is likely.
2011 started the stretch where Kershaw led the league in starting pitching with a cumulative 2.11 ERA across four seasons. In that time, Kershaw won three Cy Young Awards, an MVP title and a Golden Glove award.
Since 2009, Kershaw is averaging 30 starts per season, despite lengthy stints where he wasn’t throwing at all. But unlike previous years, arrows are pointing towards Kershaw opening the season on the Injured List rather than on mound.
“Is it dead arm? It could be,” Roberts said. “We’ll see about that as we get moving forward.”
— Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) February 22, 2019
The decreased fastball velocity plagued his secondary pitches last season and the arm issues are an evident problem this season, already. His 12th season as a big leaguer is starting with a question mark, which hasn’t happened before.
According to baseball-reference.com predictions, Kershaw is estimated to throw 160 strikeouts this upcoming season; which will put him relatively 565 strikeouts away from joining the 3,000 strikeout club. Only 16 other pitchers have thrown at least 3,000 career strikeouts.
3,000 Strikeout Club
While the milestone isn’t necessarily out of reach, the slower velocity will make it harder to strikeout hitters, and it won’t help matters in the postseason where he already has a bad reputation.
But there is a chance Kershaw will bounce back from the bicep tendinitis and see a resurgence in his arsenal, like Rich Hill and Justin Verlander have when they recovered from injuries.
Kershaw was already named the Opening Day starter, but the Dodgers are in a good position with their eight other aces for someone else to take the helm. By shelving Kershaw from his ninth consecutive Opening Day start, it’ll be the first domino to fall for an aging ace who doesn’t have much velocity.
While the Dodgers have a farm system filled with potential aces, the emergence of Walker Buehler has already catapulted him to the front of the rotation. But the sight of a Dodgers rotation without Kershaw won’t be familiar.
His end as a Dodger is a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if’ — and the newly signed contract provides a clearer idea of when that might happen.
Shorter outings with more runs given up in the next couple years is a far cry from the days Kershaw was throwing complete games and not walking a batter. But no longer in his prime with clear health issues, the new season marks the beginning of the end for Kershaw.