Last year Clayton Kershaw battled shoulder inflammation during Spring Training that caused him to fall behind and begin the season on the 10-day injured list. It snapped Kershaw’s streak of consecutive Opening Day starts at eight.
He was primed to make a ninth career start in a season opener this year, but lower back soreness required a stint on the IL. Kershaw called the development “defeating” but was encouraged by an MRI coming back negative.
He vowed to make a quick recovery and that manifested Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Kershaw’s 2020 debut couldn’t have been scripted any better, as he got through 5.2 shutout innings of a Dodgers’ 3-0 win.
“It was fun. I missed it,” he said. “It was hard to miss Opening Day, obviously. I was — not worried — but I didn’t know how long it was going to take for my back to get better. I bounced back pretty quick, so just thankful I got to get out there today.
“I felt good. It was awesome just to be back out there and get a win.”
Just as impressive as Kershaw’s efficiency and dominance — he retired the first 10 batters faced, four by strike out — was the velocity of his fastball. That was a talking point throughout last season as the left-hander struggled to get much more than 90 mph on his heater with any regularlity.
Sunday, Kershaw sat 92-93 mph with his fastball. The inclination was to attribute that to Kershaw’s offseason visit to Driveline, however he explained the boost in more general terms.
“I’ve done a lot of different things and gotten a lot of help from the training staff, strength and conditioning staff. Just working out, doing different things arm-care wise. There’s a lot of things,” he said.
“I just kind of threw everything at it and see what came out. I think the biggest thing is just feeling healthy and feeling really good, moving well. Just thankful for the arm feeling as good as it did.”
The collective approach is a working theory Dodgers manager Dave Roberts backed, both for Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, who also visited Driveline. “We’ve got some staff that’s been working with both of those guys’ bodies, really getting them all aligned and synced up,” Roberts said.
Now having flashed a little extra behind his fastball, Kershaw expects to maintain it throughout the season. “Stuff-wise, I kind of had an idea it might be playing up a little bit as compared to last year,” he said.
“That’s what I expect it to be. I expect it to be right there and I expect the execution to be the way it was, to be able to move the ball to both sides of the plate. That’s what it should look like.”
Adjusting to MLB protocols
Although Kershaw participated in Summer Camp, which began the process of adjusting to MLB’s health and safety protocols brought about the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Sunday was another reminder for the 32-year-old.
One instance came in the first inning, when Kershaw began to walk around the mound after a strikeout. Like he normally would as the ball was being thrown around the horn. Only this time he caught himself and turned back to receive the ball from Austin Barnes.
“There’s definitely some things to get used to. Obviously throwing the ball around, and just to start the day, too,” Kershaw said. “You eat you food in the hotel, you’ve got to take the bus. I like to get here early on start days, and wasn’t able to do that.
“So many different things, but at the end of the day everybody is dealing with it. We still get to play baseball, so I’m thankful for that. I’m sure we’ll continue to get used to it as the season goes.”
The changes did also lead to a lighthearted moment when Kershaw walked off the mound and smiled as he arrived at the dugout. “There’s guys in the front row clapping, so I didn’t know what to do. I see Strip and Walker over there and I was like, ‘That’s pretty weird,'” he explained.
The Dodgers implemented their own protocols to layer on top of MLB’s, and among the changes are players who aren’t in the game are no longer permitted to sit in the dugout.
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