Is Dodgers Clayton Kershaw okay? His fastball is flowing
It was the same high wind. Same right leg kick. Same on top delivery.
But he wasn’t the same Clayton Kershaw.
At the age of 35, Kershaw long ago lost his life to the mid-90s fastball he once boasted. However, in his last two appearances, his speed readings have fallen to nearly the lowest levels of his career – raising surprising questions about the persistent shoulder injury which, after costing him the entire month of July, threatens to affect his performance for the rest of the campaign.
“It’s one of those things, and that’s where we are,” head coach Dave Roberts said after the Dodgers lost 6-3 to the Miami Marlins on Tuesday. “Obviously it’s not ideal for him. But we’re going to make the best of it.”
After a week posting a low average speed of 89.6 mph with the fastball, the four-pitch Kershaw was sitting at 88.4 mph on Tuesday. He failed to exceed 90.0 mph even with a single pitch, according to MLB’s Baseball Savant System. And this time, bad driving also dogged him, as he struck out a season-high five runs in five innings and three innings.
And while Kershaw insisted – again and again – that he “feels good” when pressed about his shoulder ailment, Roberts noted that the undisclosed injury was still affecting the longtime star.
“I think the hope is that he continues to feel better,” Roberts said before the game. “But given his physical condition, it is difficult to say that this will happen.
Kershaw was first injured during a race start in Colorado in late June, when he said his shoulder got “a little cranky” during a stroll at Coors Field. The veteran went on the injured list shortly after and missed six weeks. However, upon his return in early August, he pitched sharp in five consecutive innings, and one inning start lowered his ERA to a team-best 2.48.
Kershaw’s three outings since then haven’t been nearly as smooth.
After pitching only two innings in a rain-induced short start in Cleveland last month, Kershaw’s speed problems first surfaced against the Arizona Diamondbacks last week.
Although Roberts hoped Tuesday afternoon that Kershaw would look sharper, the Dodgers have seen more of the same, as the left-hander has had to avoid danger, run into stressful innings and find other ways to compensate for his diminished speed and drive – both problems which Roberts traced to his ailing shoulder.
“It’s where he is now physically,” said Roberts.
The question now facing the Dodgers — whose already weak rotation has been shaken by the arrest of Julio Llorías on suspicion of felony domestic violence Sunday night — is whether Kershaw can hold out to lead the staff in October.
“Just need to keep going,” Kershaw said. “There’s really nothing else to do. Just try to put on a better show.”
Kershaw’s Tuesday outing could have been a lot worse.
He escaped a bases loaded jam in the second inning by prodding a key double play. He did the same in fourth place with the first and second runners. And entering the fifth, he had the Dodgers ahead 2-1, his only blemish being a solo home run to Jake Burger that came on a pending changeover.
“You definitely see the desire to be effective,” said Roberts. “You definitely see competition.”
But in his 74th show of the night, Kershaw’s inconsistent fastball finally caught up to him.
With a runner on first, Marlins veteran Josh Bell attempted to start with a fastball from the first pitch. But the throw was in the middle of the strike zone. And the speed — an unremarkable 88.2 mph — made it a meatball that Bill knocked down with a thunderous swing.
By the time Kershaw turned to watch Homer sail to center field, he was already on a look of disgust.
And although the Dodgers’ loss wasn’t decided until the eighth — when reliever Ryan Yarbrough gave up back-to-back home runs in what was a game tied — it was Kershaw’s decline that set off the loudest alarm bells of their season.
“I can’t show the way I did tonight,” said Kershaw. “This is not good.”
Despite Kershaw’s health questions, the Dodgers will continue to give him innings during their rotation.
Roberts said surgery is not “inevitable” for Kershaw, as it was for teammate Tony Gonsolin when he tried to overcome an elbow problem earlier this season.
He also said that the team is not considering giving Kershaw an extended break, and that it is important to keep his arm fresh with consistent outings.
He was adamant that other issues the Dodgers face do not take into account the situation.
“If he feels he can take the ball, he’ll take the baseball,” said Roberts.
Kershaw pointed out other areas that need improvement. He planned to sit down with shooting coach Mark Pryor on Wednesday to try and spot areas to clean up his machines. He bemoaned his inability to stay in the strike zone, declaring that “walking five is the problem” more than the fastball’s low velocity.
And every time he was asked about his shoulder after a match, he would answer with the same three words: “I feel fine.”
However, having averaged over 91 mph with his fastball for most of the season, Kershaw’s recent drop in speed is worrying, if not ominous.
And even if his shoulder holds up over the next two months, the Dodgers can only hope his stuff doesn’t continue to deteriorate either.
“Obviously when you talk about lower velocity, it drives margin down,” Roberts said. “But I still think that with his combination infield, he can still turn out the top hitters in the league.”