Dodgers say Clayton Kershaw may be unavailable to start season

"The main thing is he's trending in the right direction."

Clayton Kershaw
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw winds up to throw during the first inning in Game 5 of the World Series. –AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers could be without Clayton Kershaw for the start of the season as the staff ace begins to rebuild from shoulder soreness that caused him to shut down his spring training.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said “that’s fair” when asked Monday whether his opening-day starter would be unavailable in just over three weeks. The Dodgers open against Arizona on March 28.

“There’s just way too much importance put on the opening-day roster. The No. 1 thing is for him to be ready and to feel confident physically and mentally,” Roberts said, “and when that is, it is.”

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Kershaw has made a franchise-record eight consecutive opening day starts, and was tabbed to do so again when the Dodgers arrived in Arizona. But a couple days later, the three-time Cy Young Award winner had some shoulder soreness that caused him to halt his throwing program.

The left-hander began throwing against last week, slowly building up the amount of work and the distance of his throws. He threw again on Monday for the fourth time in five days.

“From everything I hear,” Roberts said, “he’s encouraged.”

The Dodgers have plenty of depth in their starting rotation with Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling in the mix. Julio Arias has also flashed signs that he is ready for the big leagues, though the Dodgers may want to limit his innings early on.

Hill and Buehler are the likely candidates to start opening day if Kershaw isn’t ready, though the club is taking a slow approach with Buehler this spring after a big innings jump a year ago.

The talented right-hander threw his first bullpen session in two weeks over the weekend.

Roberts didn’t write off Kershaw starting the opener against the Diamondbacks, but he generally needs about four spring training starts to prepare for the season. That would mean taking the mound in the next week for the first time, and Roberts acknowledged that would be pressing things.

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Especially given Kershaw’s recent injury history.

He was sidelined much of 2016 with a back injury, though he returned to pitch well down the stretch and in the postseason. He also landed on the disabled list each of the past two seasons with recurrences of back pain, finishing 9-5 with a 2.73 ERA this past season.

Kershaw could have opted out and become a free agent after the season, but he chose instead to sign a new $93 million, three-year contract that effectively extended his previous agreement by a year.

With that kind of investment, it would behoove the Dodgers to take their time with him.

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“The main thing is he’s trending in the right direction,” Roberts said before a spring training game against the Giants, “and when he’s game-ready is when he’s game-ready.”