Los Angeles Dodgers, MLB

Early shoulder problem is ominous sign for Clayton Kershaw

The ailment hampering Clayton Kershaw has been revealed, but it’s not a good sign as his injury list grows.

Over the last three seasons, ongoing back issues and biceps tendinitis have limited Clayton Kershaw to 21, 27 and 26 starts respectively. This year has gotten off on the wrong foot already, with Kershaw being shut down from throwing this past week with what Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts called an “arm kind of thing.”

The news got a little better on Saturday, with Kershaw ready to start throwing again next week. On Sunday, according to multiple reports, Roberts brought some clarity as he declared Kershaw is dealing with soreness in his left shoulder.

Back problems clearly haven’t magically gone away for Kershaw, as they surely won’t be going away. But last year’s biceps tendinitis has evolved into a more specific shoulder issue now, before he has even pitched in a spring training game.

Early in spring training any physical issue is automatically treated with caution, and Kershaw deserves some credit for acknowledging that he didn’t feel right. At this point there’s no real concern he won’t be able to take the ball for the Dodgers on Opening Day once again, but there have already been signs of an erosion in Kershaw’s abilities.

Kershaw pitched well last year, with a 2.73 ERA over his 26 starts (161.2 innings). But his K/9 rate dropped to 8.6, with a noted drop in fastball velocity (91.4 MPH; 93.1 in 2017) that created narrow separation from his slider (88.6 MPH). As could be expected, he allowed more contact and induced fewer swings outside the strike zone along with fewer swinging strikes overall.

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Kershaw may simply never be what he was again, with an ERA in the 2.50-3.00 range and a K/9 around 9.0 as a new normal to go with a sub-2.0 BB/9. That is still a very useful top-end-of-the-rotation starter, but the big question has become how many starts the three-time Cy Young Award winner will make.

It was already hard to bet on Kershaw making 30 starts or getting to 180 innings this year, but this early shoulder problem puts the under on both of those numbers even more firmly in play.

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