PHOENIX — Clayton Kershaw faced hitters for the first time this spring on Tuesday, setting him in line for a possible weekend start in a Cactus League game in his 12th spring training with the Dodgers.
Whether there is a 13th spring and beyond remains in question, in a way. Kershaw will make $33 million in 2018 in the fifth season of his seven-year, $215 million contract signed in 2015. He can opt out of that contract into free agency at the end of this season, which would leave salaries of $32 million in 2019 and $33 million in 2020 on the table.
The Dodgers generally keep negotiations close to the vest, especially understandable for someone as private as Kershaw. General manager Farhan Zaidi wouldn’t say that the club has had contract extension talks with their ace in an attempt to preempt his opt out, but did admit to conversations with Kershaw.
“We have an open dialogue,” Zaidi said. “He’s our franchise player.”
On the mound Tuesday, Kershaw pitched one simulated inning, facing Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor and Andrew Toles, giving up one or two hits depending on how one might imagine fielders might have been positioned had their been any in the first place.
“Physically I felt great, but the pitching side needs a little work,” Kershaw said.
The Dodgers plan to start Wilmer Font in their Cactus League opener against the White Sox on Friday, and Ross Stripling will start one of the split squad games on Saturday. That leaves Kershaw in line for a possible Sunday start, if not Monday.
Kershaw might only pitch one inning in his Cactus League debut rather than the usual two, in an effort by pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and strength coach Brandon McDaniel to reduce the workload of Dodgers pitchers this spring, not just Kershaw.
“We’ve talked to Clayton all winter long about trying to back off on the workload, but he’s still got to be ready for opening day,” manager Dave Roberts said.
The plan for the starters is to build them slowly but surely over the course of spring training, which takes time. “[Position players] don’t need six weeks to get ready for spring training,” Kershaw said. “Everybody’s here for us.”
Whether Kershaw throws one or two innings in his next start, the goal is to be ready for what would be his eighth opening day start.
“Come March 29 I don’t think anybody is going to care where you’re at right now,” Kershaw said.