It’s taken longer than he’s expected, a maddening process going on over two months, but Clayton Kershaw finally sees the light end of his tunnel. The left-hander, on the injured list since July 7 with elbow inflammation, will start Monday against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium.
“I feel like I’ve spent the past two months trying to get healthy,” Kershaw said. “Now I’ve got four or five days to learn how to pitch again. Hopefully it’s enough time.”
Kershaw’s impending comeback is slated to follow Tony Gonsolin’s activation and start Thursday. With their returns, the Dodgers hope Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals marked the final time they won’t have one of their top five starting pitchers appear in a game this season after falling two games behind the San Francisco Giants in the National League West with 22 games remaining.
“It’s going to be a huge boost,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
Mitch White was given the start Wednesday — after the Dodgers used nine relievers in a bullpen game Tuesday — and surrendered four runs across five innings in his fourth start of the season. That was enough run support for 40-year-old Adam Wainwright, who continued his elite season by stifling the Dodgers’ scuffling offense into the ninth inning.
The Dodgers have scored fewer than five runs in five of their 12 games since Mookie Betts came off the injured list Aug. 26 to give them their full assortment of regulars. They’ve tallied more than five runs just three times since a 14-run explosion Aug. 15, an unforeseen cold spell for a club with All-Stars up and down its lineup.
“It’s definitely been inconsistent,” Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy said. “Pitchers come out and they give us their best. We really haven’t been giving our best back at them.
“That’s just one of those things where we have the talent and we’re just not putting it together. We really haven’t been able to do it all year. I think if you ask anyone on this team, they’ll tell you that we’ve really sucked on the offensive side.”
Los Angeles, without Justin Turner (rest), seemed poised to give White a comfortable cushion in the first inning when Muncy and Betts delivered back-to-back singles before Corey Seager stroked a double. Muncy scored on Seager’s line drive, but Betts was thrown out at home for the inning’s second out.
Wainwright then retired 15 straight Dodgers before Muncy connected on a solo home run in the sixth inning. The Cardinals (70-68) were leading by then after scoring three runs in the first inning and one in the fourth behind Yadier Molina.
The 39-year-old catcher cracked a hanging slider off White for a two-run home run in the first. In the fourth, he singled, took second on an error, advanced to third base on a wild pitch and scored on Edmundo Sosa’s single.
Wainwright had retired 22 of 23 batters entering the ninth when the Dodgers (88-52) finally applied some pressure. Trea Turner and Betts singled before Seager lined an RBI double on Wainwright’s 104th pitch to chase him. Giovanny Gallegos then surrendered a sacrifice fly to Will Smith that cut the Cardinals’ lead to one before Chris Taylor struck out to end the Dodgers’ last-second gasp.
“Clearly, the last 30 days, we just haven’t been ourselves,” Roberts said. “The pitching and defense have really allowed us to win a lot of ballgames so there’s going to come a time where the offense has to pick up some slack too.”
The Dodgers, as a result, will enter Thursday’s series finale two games behind the Giants leaning on Gonsolin to rebound. Gonsolin’s insertion will push back Julio Urías, previously listed as the starter Thursday, to Friday against the San Diego Padres.
Gonsolin, a 27-year-old right-hander, has been on the injured list since July 31 with shoulder inflammation. He threw 41 pitches over 21/3 innings on rehab assignment with single-A Rancho Cucamonga on Saturday. He has a 2.78 ERA in 10 games (nine starts) this season.
Kershaw last pitched for the Dodgers on July 3, a rain-delay-shortened four-inning outing against the Washington Nationals. He was expected to return in early August, but he suffered a setback after throwing a three-inning simulated game in San Francisco on July 27.
The delay prompted uncertainty about his postseason status and whether he would return in time to assume a starter’s workload in October. But his second attempt to return hasn’t encountered any roadblocks, giving him a chance to return as a starter, not a reliever.
He checked the final box Tuesday when he threw 49 pitches over three innings on rehab assignment with triple-A Oklahoma City. Roberts said four innings and/or 60 pitches is the target Monday. Kershaw could make up to three more starts before the end of the regular season.
“Being hurt’s no fun,” Kershaw, 33, said. “I’ve said that before and then realizing the team that we have and the opportunity we have, from being around a little bit, you understand that you don’t really get this opportunity very much. So, I just wanted to be a part. I want to be a part of it however I can be.”
There’s a chance Kershaw won’t be a part of the Dodgers beyond 2021. The three-time Cy Young Award winner’s contract expires after the season. He acknowledged that he’s thought about his impending free agency and the possibility that his time in Los Angeles could be over soon.
“I can honestly say I have no idea what’s going to happen,” Kershaw said. “I really have no idea. So, I’m excited to pitch for now and I’m excited to pitch in the playoffs again. It’s something I don’t want to take for granted and I’ll figure it out from there.”
All he’s wanted for the last two months is a chance to help the Dodgers win another World Series.
He’ll finally get it starting Monday as the Dodgers’ starting rotation finally rounds into form with the division in the balance and time running out.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.