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Reasons for optimism from Clayton Kershaw’s first spring training start

Los Angeles Angels v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Angels’ left fielder Taylor Ward clobbered Clayton Kershaw’s second pitch of the game for a leadoff home run Friday afternoon at a packed Camelback Ranch. Kershaw may have wavered a bit in his 2023 Cactus League debut, but the Dodgers came back with a walk-off 6-5 win against the Angels.

Kershaw allowed three runs on five hits, two walks, and two strikeouts on 58 pitches in three innings of work. The long-tenured lefty touched 93 mph with his fastball. Even if the radar gun isn’t the most accurate in spring training, it’s a positive sign that the veteran southpaw will be impactful in 2023 as he has been the last decade and a half with the Dodgers.

The Dodgers are going to need Kershaw and Julio Urías to take the bulk of the work at the top of the rotation while Tony Gonsolin is out with an ankle injury. Gonsolin’s opening day outlook isn’t looking good.

With one out in the first inning, Kershaw allowed three straight singles to give the Angels the early 2-0 lead against Kershaw. No. 2 Angels prospect Zach Neto (MLB No. 89) said hello to Kershaw with an RBI single. Kershaw faced seven batters in the long inning which ended up cutting his outing to three frames instead of the planned four.

Kershaw worked around a walk in the second inning, but he served up a solo home run to Kevin Padlo to lead off the third inning. Plans don’t always work out, and that’s perfectly fine in spring training.

Perhaps Kershaw was working on some things behind-the-scenes as well. Interestingly, he had a PitchCom device on his belt today. He never got around to trying it to call his own pitches.

Kershaw withdrew from the World Baseball Classic in February, reportedly due to difficulty obtaining insurance given his long history of injuries. The nine-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner has spent time on the injured list with back issues in five of the last seven seasons.

Kershaw maintained that he’s “100% healthy.”

He turns 35 years old March 19 while at spring training in Glendale. I do think he will continue to pitch year-to-year depending on his health, and the Dodgers seem to be okay with that. Kershaw will play this season on a one-year, $20 million contract.

Kershaw is still an effective and a formidable pitcher, Kershaw posted a 2.28 ERA, 2.57 FIP and 0.942 WHIP in 126 ⅓ innings in 2022. His 3.8 fWAR was the second-best on the staff. He worked to cut down his home run rate (0.7 HR/9) and struck out 27.8 percent of his batters faced.

Should Kershaw remain on a five-day schedule, it would allow him to start the second game of the regular season against the Arizona D-backs at Dodger Stadium.

Kershaw likely has three more spring training starts to get ready for the regular season. It would be nice to see Kershaw continue to pitch beyond 2023 and eventually retire with the Dodgers. But I’m optimistic that he’ll pitch dominantly in typical Kershaw form this upcoming season.