Dodgers get Clayton Kershaw back when they need him most

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The workhorse returns after missing six weeks, looking to provide some relief to an overworked bullpen.

The Dodgers welcome Clayton Kershaw back to a major league mound for the first time in 45 days, hoping for some stability in its pitching staff. Kershaw gets the call in the middle game of a three-game series against the Nationals.

Monday's loss to Washington was the latest in a confluence of factors that have contributed to the Dodgers having the busiest bullpen in baseball this season. The rain delay of three hours, 17 minutes lasted longer than the game itself, and knocked out both teams' starting pitchers.

The Dodgers had to get five innings out of its bullpen on Monday, which vaulted the Dodgers into the major league lead with 119 relief innings. Only the Rays (3.67) have used their bullpen in more innings per game than the Dodgers (3.61).

Kenley Jansen has gotten a much-needed reprieve by not pitching the last four days, but is still tied with teammate J.P. Howell (and Brad Ziegler of the Diamondbacks) for the most appearances in MLB, with 18. Chris Perez and Jamey Wright aren't far behind with 15 games.

In addition to an MLB-high eight extra inning games this season, the Dodgers have had a starter last seven or more innings seven times in 33 games this year. Only the Nationals (six), Blue Jays (six) and Orioles (five) have had fewer such games.

Enter Kershaw, who pitched seven or more innings in 25 of his 33 starts in 2013 and who averaged 7.04 innings per start from 2011-2013. Not that it's necessarily fair to expect Kershaw to go seven innings right out of the gate in his first start back.

Then again, Kershaw did get stretched out in his two rehab starts, throwing 86 pitches last Wednesday for Double-A Chattanooga. So he probably won't be on much of a limit on Tuesday against the Nationals.

The road trip has also been instructive on just how fluid a major league roster can be. We are often much too focused on the active roster as fixed at 25 players, when in reality the roster is a revolving door of talent moving back and forth all the time. Once the Dodgers make a corresponding move to activate Kershaw on Tuesday, they will have made seven transactions on the road trip involving 13 different players.

During this road trip, the Dodgers will have gotten 14⅓ innings out of pitchers who weren't on the roster when the trip began and are no longer on the active roster.

The Nationals on Tuesday will counter with Blake Treinen, making his first major league start. The right-hander, three months younger than Kershaw, struck out seven with two walks in 6⅔ innings in three relief appearances in his first taste of major league action earlier this season.

To make room for Treinen, who will be called up from Triple-A, the Nationals optioned pitcher Ryan Mattheus to Syracuse after Monday's game.

Game info

Time: 4:05 p.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA

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