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Determined Clayton Kershaw plans to return to Dodgers this year

LOS ANGELES -- Inspired by his team's play and buoyed by his own optimism, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is determined to come back this season and be a difference maker.

"I'm trying to make it back to have an impact on this season for our team," Kershaw said in the Dodgers' dugout before Tuesday's interleague game against the Tampa Bay Rays. "I don't know what that means exactly."

The three-time Cy Young Award winner has not pitched in exactly a month, last appearing June 26 at Pittsburgh. He has been out of action with what was first diagnosed as a mild disk irritation in his lower back, but that was before a setback during a simulated game that has left his return date unknown.

Nobody was making a bigger impact on the game that Kershaw before his injury surfaced. He had a 1.79 ERA over his first 16 starts and had 145 strikeouts in 121 innings. Most mind-blowing of all, though, might have been the fact that he had walked just nine batters.

Yet, the Dodgers did not crumble in Kershaw's absence as might have been expected. They are instead 15-8 without their best pitcher, rallying behind an improved offense and a stingy bullpen that has one of the best collective ERAs in the game.

"It's so fun to watch," Kershaw said. "It's not easy to watch games on TV, but these guys make me want to be a part of it. Just the way these guys are playing, it's a great team, it really is. It's just fun to watch. One of the closest teams that I have been a part of. It's hard to be away, I hate it, but I'm really happy they're doing so well and hopefully I can make it back and help out in some way."

His setback occurred after throwing in a simulated game at Dodger Stadium on July 16. The Dodgers were in Arizona at the time just starting play in the second half.

"I just knew there was something that was not right," Kershaw said. "I definitely felt it where I shouldn't have felt it."

He described rehab in terms of having patience, knowing as if this is not something he can push through and dominate like he does with National League offenses. His month away has lent him a bit of perspective.

"It's just hard not to pitch; that's what I love to do," he said. "You realize how much you love the game when you're away from it and how much you take it for granted. I learned that. Being healthy is something that really is a blessing. It's something that you really can't take for granted. It's hard to be away but I understand and I'm just trying to be patient."

The Dodgers were reluctant to put a timetable on Kershaw's comeback when the injury first happened and they are not anywhere near revealing one now. Kershaw was asked if there are some unknowns to his injury.

"I don't think it's unknown," he said. "There is a lot of gray area, is the best way to say it. You just have to go based on your symptoms. I didn't have any pain leading to when I pitched and I pitched and now I have to wait until I feel no pain again.

So is there a fear he will not make it back this season.

"As of today, I did all my core work and knocked it out," he said. "Today I made it and on to tomorrow."