Dodgers 2016 Player Review: Clayton Kershaw
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For all that Clayton Kershaw had already accomplished entering this season, he somehow managed to improve and was in the process of completing a historically great campaign.

But it came to a grinding halt on July 1 when the Dodgers placed Kershaw on the 15-day disabled list with a mild disc herniation. It was just the second time in Kershaw’s career an injury forced him to the DL.

At that point in the season he was 11-2 with a 1.79 ERA, 1.67 FIP and 0.73 WHIP. Kershaw led the Majors in ERA, complete games (three), complete-game shutouts (three), innings pitched (121) and strikeouts (145), among other categories.

While the Dodgers and Kershaw remained mum on a timeline for his return, it was speculated the injury would keep him sidelined for up to six weeks.

Kershaw was said to be recovering ahead of schedule, and threw a light bullpen session on July 10. That led to a simulated game soon after, which spelled doom.

The Dodgers were forced to shut their ace down as discomfort set in. Kershaw was transferred to the 60-day DL on Aug. 3, and both he and the Dodgers remained hopeful a September return was in the cards.

Details of his progress throughout the month were sparse, but Kershaw joined High-A Rancho Cucamonga for a rehab start in early September. It was his lone outing with the Quakes, as the Dodgers activated Kershaw from the DL on Sept. 9.

His first Major League start in 75 days was essentially another rehab outing, and Kershaw showed expected signs of rust. He did record five strikeouts but labored through three innings against the Miami Marlins, throwing 66 pitches and allowing two runs on five hits, including a home run.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner began to settle back in from there, steadily improving with each start to close out the regular season. Kershaw finished September 1-2 with a 1.29 ERA and 27 strikeouts over 28 innings across five starts.

He completed seven innings in each of his final two games and had a combined 10 strikeouts. Overall in 2016, Kershaw went 12-4 with a 1.69 ERA, 1.80 FIP and 0.73 WHIP.

Kershaw’s usual sharpness was absent against the Washington Nationals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. He threw 101 pitches over five innings, allowed three runs on eight hits and had seven strikeouts.

To his credit Kershaw did limit damage, which proved key in the Dodgers’ 4-3 victory. The 28-year-old was back on the mound on short rest in Game 4, and pitched much better than his final line reflected.

Kershaw was removed with the bases loaded, a 5-2 lead and two outs in the seventh inning. Pedro Baez hit the only batter he faced, and Luis Avilan allowed another two runs to score. Los Angeles ultimately escaped with a one-run win, and Kershaw said he was ‘mentally and physically drained’ after the game.

Despite that, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’ assertion that Kershaw was not available in any capacity for winner-take-all Game 5, there he was in the ninth inning at Nationals Park.

Motivated by Kenley Jansen having thrown a then-career-high 2.1 innings, Kershaw entered to convert the save. He inherited runners on first and second base, with the Dodgers clinging to a 2-1 lead.

Kershaw induced nemesis Daniel Murphy into a pop-out, and struck out pinch-hitter Wilmer Difo to earn his first career save and send the Dodgers to the NL Championship Series.

A mere three days after closing out the Nationals, Kershaw was back on the mound to face the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS. He didn’t show any signs of the heavy workload shouldered during the first round, firing seven shutout innings at Wrigley Field.

Perhaps fatigued, but certainly stricken by bad luck, Game 6 was a much different tale for Kershaw and the Dodgers. The Cubs tagged the left-handed ace for five runs (four earned) on seven hits in five innings, and handed Kershaw the loss in the elimination game.

Albeit in a change from previous years, but predictable given the circumstances, Kershaw did not take home any hardware this offseason. His streak of five consecutive top-three finishes in NL Cy Young voting, an MLB record, came to an end.

However, by receiving two first-place votes, Kershaw became the first pitcher in MLB history to receive at least one such vote in six straight years.

2016 Highlight

Beginning April 21 against the Atlanta Braves, Kershaw strung together six consecutive starts with at least 10 strikeouts.

It was part of a larger stretch where he notched double-digit strikeout totals in nine of 11 starts, all the while going 8-1, pithing to a 1.57 ERA and throwing three complete games during that span.

Aside from that dominant run, another memorable moment from the season was of course Kershaw’s heroics in Game 5 against the Nationals.

2017 Outlook

Throughout the time he was recovering from the disc herniation, Kershaw didn’t express much concern over it’s long-term impact. He did conceded changes to his between-starts routine would likely be needed, and began to implement those.

So Kershaw is on track to participate in Spring Training and head into another season as the Dodgers’ ace and a team leader. Prior to Opening Day, the plan at present time calls for Kershaw to join Team USA at some point during the 2017 World Baseball Classic.