As he warmed up to pitch the fifth, Kershaw felt his back tighten up after his penultimate warmup throw. He then tried to throw one more to test the back, but immediately motioned over to the Dodgers dugout. He left the game with trainer Thomas Albert.
Kershaw said he’ll know more after he sees how he wakes up on Friday and after a series of exams. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts also said there’s always a level of concern when it comes to Kershaw’s back, but they won’t have much information until Friday.
“It’s a fair amount,” Kershaw said, when asked how frustrating it is to deal with more back issues. “I just felt something kind of lock up there in the fifth. Couldn’t really throw after that.”
The future Hall of Famer has dealt with back problems throughout his career, landing on the injured list with a back injury in five of his last seven seasons. Kershaw has not missed fewer than three weeks in each of those stints on the injured list. This season, Kershaw missed a month with right SI joint inflammation, which flared up during a cross-country flight.
Though the Dodgers will know more following the testing, another stint on the injured list for Kershaw is not off the table.
“I’m not going to try to get too far ahead of it,” Roberts said. “Obviously any time a pitcher has to come out of a game, there’s somewhat of a concern level. Again, given it’s his back, which has been problematic at times — we just won’t know more until we get some tests.”
If Kershaw is forced to miss time, it will be another big blow for the Dodgers. When healthy, Kershaw has been one of the club’s best pitchers, posting a 2.64 ERA over 15 starts. The Dodgers didn’t trade for a starting pitcher before the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline. Instead, they traded away right-hander Mitch White — their best depth piece.
Dustin May, who pitched four innings with Triple-A Oklahoma City during his rehab assignment on Wednesday, will need at least one more outing in the Minors before being a candidate to replace any starts Kershaw might miss. Ryan Pepiot, who has a 2.76 ERA in four starts this season, is also an option.
Seeing Kershaw leave the game was about the only thing that went wrong for the Dodgers during their 7-1 road trip against the Rockies and Giants. L.A. has won eight in a row against the Giants, sweeping them in a four-game series in San Francisco for the first time since 1977.
The Dodgers’ dominance and the Giants’ frustration was on display in the sixth inning as reliever Jarlín García mocked Los Angeles’ hit celebration after striking out Cody Bellinger and James Outman. After the second punchout ended the frame, García pointed at Mookie Betts, who was on the on-deck circle, as he walked off the field. Betts took exception.
“I don’t know. I didn’t do anything. It was all surprising to me,” said Betts, who hit his 25th homer of the season to put the Dodgers ahead in the fourth. “I guess he felt a certain way. I don’t know. You have to ask him.”
After the game, García said he didn’t intend to disrespect any of the Dodgers’ players and that the Giants were also there to compete. García also said Betts is “one of my favorite players.” But García just happened to pump up the Dodgers, who were even more animated following Trea Turner’s homer in the seventh.
“I’m not going to back down at that point,” Betts said. “I’m not going to run away from it. I’m not going to encourage it, but I’m not going to run away.”
Over the last month and a half, the Dodgers (72-33) haven’t ran away from any challenges. They are 39 games over .500 and have a 21 1/2 game lead in the NL West over the third-place Giants. Since the All-Star break, the Dodgers are 12-3, the best mark in the Majors.
Though a banged-up Kershaw is a hit to the rotation, the Dodgers have been clicking on all cylinders for an extended period of time. Seems like a good time to host the Padres on Friday, the first meeting since San Diego acquired Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Josh Hader and Brandon Drury.
“We’re playing really good baseball,” Roberts said. “We’re doing things to win baseball games. It’s really, really good to see.”