LOS ANGELES — It was 86 degrees Sunday in Los Angeles when Clayton Kershaw sat down uncomfortably in the dugout after pitching the second inning. A Dodgers trainer approached him. After a quick chat the two walked down the tunnel leading into the home clubhouse. Quietly, Kershaw’s day was done.
The Dodgers announced that Kershaw left the game with right lower back tightness.
Any injury to Kershaw — the National League leader in wins (15-2), earned-run average (2.07) and innings (139 ⅓) — puts his team in an uncomfortable position.
The Dodgers were positioned well enough last season to absorb more than two months without Kershaw when he was diagnosed with a mild disc herniation in his back. The team went 38-24 in his absence.
Again this week, the Dodgers were positioned to roll with a six-man rotation. Kenta Maeda and Brandon McCarthy threw bullpen sessions Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Hyun-Jin Ryu is set to come off the disabled list Monday and start against the Minnesota Twins. Left-handers Alex Wood and Rich Hill round out a rotation that is 35-21 with a 3.65 earned-run average even without Kershaw.
Still, as the July 31 trade deadline approaches and teams scour the market for potential deals, Kershaw’s health was not a question mark the Dodgers needed. They have been linked to Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish, among others. If Kershaw faces an extended absence again, the asking price for Darvish and other starting pitchers can only rise.
With Tyler Flowers in the batter’s box and two outs in the second inning Sunday, Kershaw stepped off the mound to gather himself. Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes jogged out to visit Kershaw. So did assistant trainer Nate Lucero and manager Dave Roberts.
Kershaw threw a couple practice pitches and ultimately finished the inning. He threw 21 pitches and allowed only one runner to reach base, when he walked Flowers. But there was little deliberation in the dugout when Kershaw ultimately left for good. As he’s done often in 10 big league seasons, Kershaw made a difficult task look easy.
Ross Stripling took over in the third inning. The Dodgers led Atlanta 3-1 in the fifth inning as of press time.