That the Los Angeles Dodgers did not name Clayton Kershaw the starter for Game 1 of the 2019 National League Division Series ultimately wasn’t much of a surprise. The team crossed that bridge last year when Hyun-Jin Ryu started the playoff opener.
From 2009-17 that was an honor that belonged to Kershaw. Just like with last year’s NLDS, Kershaw starting Game 2 is not indicative of the team lacking confidence in the longtime ace but rather with the bigger picture in mind.
“It was more just appreciating what Clayton has done out of the ‘pen, and you’re talking about Game 5,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts explained. “Understanding that Clayton has done it, he’s done well, you’ve got to prepare for a Game 5 if it does happen, so what best prepares you for that?
“And that’s Clayton pitching Game 2 and Walker having the opportunity to pitch twice in this series. We just felt very good in that sense.”
Kershaw memorably appeared out of the bullpen to close Game 5 of the 2016 NLDS, doing so at Nationals Park. While he’s willing to pitch whenever asked — including out of the bullpen — Kershaw is hopeful to avoid a repeat of that workload.
“I hope it’s not that situation, because I was (Games) 1, 4 and 5, so I don’t envision that happening,” he said. “You know how you feel coming out of starts. And this season I felt great the whole year after those first couple weeks, so I don’t think I’ll have any problem bouncing back.
“I’m not really focused on that right now though. I’m focused on [Friday] obviously. But if there is a Game 5 and I’m asked to be in the ‘pen I’ll be ready for that, for sure.”
Before that possibility, Kershaw gets to pitch in his natural role as a starter. This year marks his ninth time reaching the postseason with the Dodgers.
“I think the biggest thing I can say is that every year that you make the postseason you realize that it’s one less year on your career, one less year that you have a chance to win, so you become more grateful and more appreciative every single time you get a chance to win a World Series,” he said.
“I think that becomes more apparent, because who knows how long I’m going to get to play this game and who knows how long I get to play here. But it’s a special thing to get to go to the postseason seven years in a row and nine years out of however many years I played and realize that you don’t get this opportunity very often to play, to try to win 11 games.
“So, grateful, but also maybe with each passing year maybe a little bit more sense of urgency for sure.”