Another Dodgers season is over early, and one of the top storylines of the winter is what’s next for Clayton Kershaw.
His 16th season was interrupted in July by a shoulder injury that was officially listed as inflammation but was clearly much more. Kershaw missed six weeks, and upon his return saw his velocity and command wane. That culminated in the worst start of his career, when he allowed six runs and recorded one out in Game 1, setting the tone for a series in which the Dodgers never led.
Kershaw was planning to start Game 4 on Thursday had there been one. Dave Roberts said so Saturday in Los Angeles and reiterated every single day since that Kershaw was going to get the ball on four days rest for the first time since May. Though by not using Ryan Pepiot in Game 3, in which starter Lance Lynn only recorded eight outs, Roberts was at least hedging his bet.
Nothing was said, from what I’ve seen, regarding Pepiot’s non-usage from Roberts’ postgame session in the interview room at Chase Field. The overriding theme was one of disappointment, in another Dodgers season ending far earlier than expected.
There was a similar tone from Kershaw in the clubhouse, a frustration at his performance plus the always-jarring sudden end to a long season after preparing each day to compete.
"Obviously, it's just a disappointing end." Clayton Kershaw speaks on his emotions after tonight's loss. pic.twitter.com/t1DcYaufxA— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) October 12, 2023
“Obviously you’re focused on pitching and getting ready to face the guys again. The mental let down of knowing you’re done for the season,” Kershaw told reporters, per SportsNet LA. “You know, there will be a physical let down, too. Your body will let you know the season is over. It’s all stuff that’s no fun unless you win the last game.”
The usual choices are on the table for the left-hander who will turn 36 years old in March — return to the Dodgers, the only professional organization he’s ever known, sign with the Rangers to pitch for the team he grew up rooting for and with home games a short drive from his house, or retirement to spend more time with his family and finally let his body rest after 10 consecutive seasons with at least one injured list stint.
Last offseason’s decision came fairly quickly, only five days into free agency, though Kershaw’s one-year, $20-million contract was not finalized until December 5.
This year, though, Kershaw plans to take his time. From Andy McCullough at The Athletic:
A year ago, after the 111-win Dodgers crashed out early in the postseason, Kershaw opted to come back to Los Angeles after only a few days of discussion with his wife Ellen. This year, he told The Athletic on Wednesday, he will take longer to decide. He is considering undergoing an additional examination on his left shoulder, which he injured in late June. The shoulder condition, which Kershaw has declined to specify, led to reduced fastball velocity and diminished command in the final months of the season. He indicated he was unlikely to engage in serious contemplation about his future for several weeks.
Ever since he returned from the injured list in August, there was a vibe that just felt different. Kershaw after his first start back mentioned how he didn’t take for granted the opportunity to pitch, a sentiment he repeated over the last two months.
Because of the shoulder injury, I think retirement is likelier than it’s ever been for Kershaw.