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How Dodgers starting pitchers did without Clayton Kershaw

Kershaw is expected to return from the injured list Thursday night

Toronto Blue Jays v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Dodgers will get Clayton Kershaw back on Thursday night, when they open up a 10-game homestand with a series against the Rockies. It will be the first start in over six weeks for Kershaw, whose return should bring some stability to a rotation that’s been anything but.

Kershaw had an excellent June, allowing only four runs in 33 innings for a sparkling 1.09 ERA in five starts. He allowed only a hit and a walk in six scoreless innings at Coors Field of all places on June 27, but shoulder soreness ended his night after just 79 pitches. A cortisone shot followed, as did prescribed rest, a handful of bullpen sessions and simulated games to get to Thursday’s return.

Without Kershaw in July, the Dodgers rotation had their highest ERA in 79 years, so it’s safe to say his return will help.

But we can dig a little deeper, to find out how Dodgers starting pitchers did while Kershaw was away. From Michael Grove on June 28 in Denver to Bobby Miller on Wednesday in Phoenix, the Dodgers have been without Kershaw for 35 games.

Dodgers starting pitchers in those 35 games have a 5.14 ERA, which ranks 23rd among major league rotations, and have averaged 5.15 innings per start.

A few caveats are in play here, as the Dodgers used openers on both July 8 against the Angels and Saturday against the Padres. I removed those openers and added in the bulk pitchers in those games — Grove’s six innings on July 8, and Ryan Yarbrough going 4⅓ innings Dodgers debut in San Diego — since they filled the spirit of the starter’s role, even though they weren’t the first pitcher in the game.

The peripheral numbers, however, haven’t changed a ton, with similar innings per start, walk rates, strikeout rates, and FIP with Kershaw and without.

Dodgers starting pitching in 2023

Split G IP/start BB rate K rate ERA FIP
Split G IP/start BB rate K rate ERA FIP
with Kershaw 76* 5.21 6.98% 21.19% 4.39 4.29
w/o Kershaw 35 5.15 7.25% 21.37% 5.14 4.27
*excludes planned bullpen games on June 9 and June 21

Kershaw might be limited in his return, at least to start, as he only stretched out to four innings in his simulated games. But the Dodgers have made do with limited for several months.

Things have gone haywire pretty much since the middle of May, when Dustin May injured his elbow and Julio Urías strained his hamstring. The rotation has been playing catch-up ever since.

The last week has provided some reason for optimism, as Lance Lynn has won both of his starts since getting acquired at the trade deadline, pitching seven and six innings. Urías has an active streak of 14 consecutive scoreless innings, and his start on Tuesday in Arizona gave the Dodgers three starts in a row of six innings, something Los Angeles pitchers have only done 12 times in the 35 games Kershaw was out.

Despite the Dodgers starters’ 5.14 ERA, they were 16-7 and the team was 23-12 without Kershaw, thanks in large part to an offense averaging 6.57 runs per game, the highest-scoring team in baseball during that time.

But now with Kershaw back Thursday, Urías looking like his former self, and Lynn at least providing innings if not more, the Dodgers rotation feels its most stable in weeks.