PHOENIX — Clayton Kershaw threw a bullpen session on the day pitchers and catchers reported to Dodgers camp at Camelback Ranch. Now entering his 10th big league season, Kershaw is a little bit older, a little bit wiser, but still very much in the moment.
"I'm not a big future guy. I just want to pitch. This year, I want to make every start. I'll do whatever I have to do to make that next start,” Kershaw said on Wednesday. “I'll worry about the next years when I need to. If it costs me somewhere down the road, it does. But I'm here to make every start this year. I feel like that's what I'm supposed to do.”
Kershaw didn’t make every start last season, felled by a herniated disc in his back that sidelined him for 10 weeks in the midst of what was shaping up to be his best season. In the 21 starts he did make in 2016 — after averaging 32 starts in his previous seven seasons — Kershaw had a 1.69 ERA in 149 innings, plus 172 strikeouts and an absurd 11 walks.
Kershaw was one of a handful of Dodgers who threw a bullpen session in camp on Wednesday, along with Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood, among others. Kershaw said he has no worries or concerns after last season’s injury, and that his back feels fine. He started his offseason throwing program in January, and said he threw off a mound four or five times before coming to camp.
Because of the back injury, Kershaw did make some changes to his routine. This is where the wiser side helps combat the stubborn side.
"The routine has been a little different, but it's not drastic changes, which is great,” Kershaw said. “I feel like I'm still able to get the work I need to get in. Instead of just pushing through stuff, am just a little more aware.”
Manager Dave Roberts said the club’s medical staff was in contact with Kershaw all winter, monitoring his work, and that there are no restrictions on Kershaw this spring.
"Clayton is in a good place physically and mentally,” Roberts said.
"There's nobody in baseball that does more in baseball, in the offseason and between starts, to put 200-plus innings on his body and be strong through October than he does," said president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
Camps around baseball started a few days early this year to account for the World Baseball Classic, and with a new designated pitcher pool a pitcher could commit to the tournament even if for just one round rather than potentially all three rounds. But when the rosters were announced last week, Kershaw was not a part of the United States team.
"I gave it very serious consideration. It's an honor, and I wanted to do it. Just taking a lot of things into consideration, I thought it was best for me not to do it,” Kershaw said. “It wasn't a decision I took lightly. Just the respect I have for Joe [Torre, Team USA general manager], the respect I have for getting to put on that uniform, I didn't want to take that for granted. It was tough.”
With the focus on the Dodgers, and in keeping with the optimism that the first day of spring training brings, Kershaw is looking forward to 2017.
"I know we lost a few free agents, but with Chase [Utley] back we have four guys we signed back from last year,” Kershaw said. “I think everybody knows that our team was plenty talented last year. We just had a lot of guys get hurt. Hopefully, we don't get hurt, and we should be okay.”
As for Kershaw’s plan to start every game, to return to the workhorse who averaged 226 innings from 2011-2015, Friedman shared the optimism.
"We're in,” Friedman said. “Sign us up.”