Clayton Kershaw Getting Closer to Dodgers Return After Shoulder Injury

Will Carroll@injuryexpertSports Injuries Lead WriterApril 21, 2014

USA Today

A simulated game isn't an ideal situation to test a player's progress, but it is a good sign that Clayton Kershaw was able to make it through his sim without causing issues in his injured shoulder, as the Orange County Register noted. His time off and a slow ramp-up appear to have worked, meaning that the strained teres major has healed properly.

The next step will be a rehab start, likely at nearby Rancho Cucamonga, though schedule and weather may have something to do with where Kershaw goes. If that goes well, it could be the only rehab start he makes before returning, putting him right on schedule for a May 1 return, more or less.

If you subscribe to the school of thought that a pitcher "only has so many bullets," then wasting a Kershaw start in the minor leagues makes no sense. If you subscribe to the thought that a pitcher has to build his stamina and his confidence at rehab starts, just having one makes no sense. We'll learn quickly where the Dodgers are.

For me, I think it's the former. It's less about bullets and more about maximizing an asset like Kershaw. Having missed four or five starts already and locked into a five-man modern rotation, he has a best case of 27 or 28 starts on the year. That's somewhere around 175 innings. Even at his per-start numbers from last year, that's a loss of a win to the Dodgers, though his new, heavily backloaded deal makes it a cheaper proposition. 

Watch to see how deep Kershaw is able to go. If he's below 75 pitches, some may push for one more start, especially if it comes at a low level. I think it would be better to bring him back, even if he is lacking some normal stamina, and pair him with a long reliever.

Kershaw is likely to need a shadow anyway, given the injury and how cautiously he'll be handled, so it's not going to be a hardship, especially with a 12-man bullpen. Paul Maholm is the likely shadow, assuming he loses his rotation slot, though Jamey Wright could work as well. With Chad Billingsley not far behind, the Dodgers will have some decisions about the front of their bullpen soon, putting both former starters on the chopping block.

When Kershaw is on the mound, watch to make sure he's getting full extension and has a smooth follow-through. The Dodgers medical staff and pitching coaches will be watching closely to make sure he's not changing his mechanics and putting his arm at risk. Some pitchers with lat problems will shorten the release, which stresses the rotator cuff.

Getting Kershaw back will be a huge boost for the Dodgers rotation, but keeping him back is much more important. Making sure he's healthy is the key for this franchise, so even the slightest setback will be taken as something bigger. You have to put him back into your starting lineup in all formats, but temper your expectations as well.