RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. -- Clayton Kershaw was as intense as ever, though he was about to pitch in a one-deck stadium where they hold an air-guitar contest on the roof of the home dugout between innings.
Kershaw would later say he had fun, but it didn't look as if he were on any kind of vacation before the game. He followed his pre-start routine to a T. About 45 minutes before first pitch, he strolled out to the dugout and sat there, by himself, wearing a Dodgers jacket, a towel draped over his shoulders, tapping his heel nervously on the dugout floor.
A few dozen fans, mostly kids, crowded around the rail of the dugout chanting, "Ker-shaw! Ker-shaw!", but he acted as if he couldn't hear them. He jogged out to left field and began to stretch. He ran some sprints. For a while, he just sat there on the grass, seemingly lost in thought.
As usual, he didn't look like a man willing to think about anything other than how he could make hitters look as bad as humanly possible as often as possible. So, why not let him do it somewhere it can actually help the Dodgers get closer to their goal?
Kershaw wouldn't say after his nice, easy, 56-pitch outing here whether he's ready to come off the disabled list and pitch in the major leagues again. He didn't say he wasn't, either. He only says he feels entirely healthy, and so the question seems to be, "Why not?"
Kershaw isn't going to throw 100 pitches if he starts next week in Minnesota, where the Dodgers play an interleague series with the Twins. That would be a steep escalation from the mid-50s, but he could throw something like 75, with a long reliever in the bullpen ready to go, and still help ease the burden on the Dodgers' bullpen. Zack Greinke threw 83 pitches when he returned from a similar-length layoff last May, and he went on to have a dominant 4½ months. That seemed like the perfect template for an expedited-but-not-rushed return to the mound.
It's hard to believe Kershaw is going to take his time with this thing.
"I feel ready to go," Kershaw said.
But go where? Five days from now, Rancho Cucamonga is on the road at Inland Empire, though it's only about 15 miles from their home. Triple-A Albuquerque is home against Salt Lake. That's a possibility. But if he feels this good, can hit the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and throw all his secondary pitches, why waste his bullets facing minor leaguers?
Kershaw might have gotten hurt in part because he had to ramp up so quickly in spring training, but this is a different situation. He has been throwing bullpen sessions for about 10 days now. He threw a 55-pitch simulated game at Dodger Stadium and now got through a game against real, opposing hitters with absolutely no pain.
"Obviously, this was geared toward health rather than results, but I think it went OK on both fronts," Kershaw said.
He's healthy. Give him the ball and let him do what they gave him all that money to do. It wasn't so he could beat the Inland Empire 66ers.