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Enjoy Clayton Kershaw while you still can

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MLB: SEP 05 Dodgers at Marlins Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s a little under four weeks left in the regular season, but the Dodgers only have 10 home games remaining on the schedule. If you happen to be in Los Angeles for one or a few of those games — or for any in October — that Clayton Kershaw might start, I think you should go, if at all possible.

This isn’t meant to be hyperbolic. Kershaw is nearing the end of his 16th major league season, and no matter how long he continues to pitch there are only a finite number of opportunities remaining to see either the best or, at worst, second-best pitcher in the history of the Dodgers.

This is an extension of last year’s season review of Kershaw, because 2022 reminded me to enjoy him whenever possible:

Kershaw isn’t the same pitcher who won three Cy Young Awards, an MVP, and led the league in ERA four years running. But who is? Kershaw is still a very good and sometimes excellent pitcher, and both he and us can continue to cherish the occasional bits of brilliance while we still can.

Even this year, Kershaw on the whole has been very good, even excellent at times. He’s going to finish 20 to 30 innings shy of qualifying for leaderboards, but among National League pitchers with at least 100 innings, Kershaw’s 2.61 ERA ranks third.

Kershaw won’t pitch enough innings to qualify for leaderboards because he missed six weeks with left shoulder inflammation, an injury that has been downplayed from the start but has proven to be far more serious than anyone has let on.

Manager Dave Roberts conceded that Kershaw is limited by the shoulder even now, five starts since returning from the injured list.

“The stuff might be down. It’s where he’s at right now, physically. But willing and wanting to take the baseball is huge,” Roberts said after Tuesday’s game, per SportsNet LA. “He’s going to keep going until he can’t.”

Kershaw averaged 88.4 mph on his four-seam fastball on Tuesday against the Marlins, down from his 91.1-mph average on the season, and the second-lowest average on that pitch in a game in his career. His only game with a lower fastball speed was May 31, 2018, when his 31 fastballs averaged 88.3 mph in a game that was followed by a three-week stint on the injured list with back soreness.

The Dodgers have no plans to rest Kershaw any time soon, believing the best path is for Kershaw to keep pitching, to find his command. He has a 2.86 ERA in five starts since returning from the injured list, though 10 walks to go with 18 strikeouts in 22 innings.

Read the on-site reports from Bill Plunkett at the Orange County Register, Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times, and Fabian Ardaya at The Athletic for more on that regard.

Kershaw insisted he was fine after Tuesday’s game, because he’s not going to say anything else. He cited his poor command, which included five walks against the Marlins, matching his total from his first four starts back from the injured list.

“I just need to keep going,” Kershaw told reporters, per SportsNet LA. “I mean, there’s really nothing else to do just try and pitch better.”

Kershaw nearly escaped Tuesday with a lead, but one of those walks (Jorge Soler) scored in the fifth, when Josh Bell hit one of those 88-mph fastballs over the fence for a two-run shot that put the Marlins on top.

That was the only time runs were scored against Kershaw on anything but a solo home run over his last 10 starts, dating back to the beginning of June.

Kershaw can still pitch with diminished velocity, but he has less of a margin for error, and he’ll need much better command to succeed. Nobody seems willing to say just how much Kershaw’s shoulder his still bothering him, but he’s willing to gut through this month and next to see what he has left this season.

Whether Kershaw decides to pitch beyond that is another question for another day. As he’s said multiple times, he’s on a year-to-year basis.

But for now, while you still can, it’s worth making the effort to try to see him make the effort, because you never know how many more chances you will have.