On a day Clayton Kershaw returned to the mound for the first time in a month, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Walker Buehler might not do so again for at least “a good bit of time.”
Such was the dichotomy surrounding the Dodgers on Saturday, when neither their 3-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants nor Kershaw’s four-inning, two-run start coming back from injury was their biggest concern.
Instead, the status of Buehler’s injured right elbow hung over the club.
A night after exiting a start early because of right elbow discomfort, Buehler was diagnosed with an elbow strain Saturday after undergoing an MRI exam in Los Angeles and was put on the injured list.
According to Roberts, Buehler won’t need surgery and, as of now, is expected to pitch again. However, he won’t pick up a ball for six to eight weeks, then he will need to rebuild arm strength and stamina, as if it were the start of spring training.
It means Buehler could be out until the final third of the season, at least – a crushing blow in what had already been an inconsistent season for him, and perhaps the biggest setback yet for this year increasingly banged-up Dodgers pitching staff.
“To lose him in any capacity is a blow,” Roberts said. “I think: [other] guys understand that there’s going to be more asked of them. ”
Perhaps no one more than Kershaw.
Though he’s 34 with a history of elbow and back troubles in recent years, Kershaw has shown he’s still capable of dominant stretches.
In his first five starts this year, he had a 1.80 ERA and the best strikeout rate of the failed starters. And in his return Saturday from a SI joint inflammation in his lower back injury, an issue that had kept him off the mound since May 7, Kershaw looked solid, albeit unspectacular, as he resumed his season.
The Giants scored two of their runs in the second inning, taking advantage of a few misplaced sliders. Thairo Estrada homered on one Kershaw left over the middle of the plate on a 1-and-2 count. Austin Wynns and Luis González both singled off the pitch, as well, the latter knocking in the second run.
“The one that stings is the two-strike single to González,” Kershaw said. “Really wish I could have gotten out of there with one run.”
Apart from that inning, however, Kershaw looked sharp. He retired the side in order in the first and third. He escaped a runners-on-the-corner jam in the fourth. And he was removed only because he’d surpassed his predetermined pitch count of 70.
“Overall felt great,” Kershaw said. “Good to be back out there.”
It was the Dodgers’ offense that was to blame in Saturday’s loss. Despite collecting 13 hits against the Giants (32-26), the team went just two for 10 with runners in scoring position and left 14 runners on base.
“You’re not going to win many games when you do that,” said Freddie Freeman, who hit a solo home run in the ninth but struck out with the bases loaded in the seventh.
There was also a moment of umpire controversy: With the Dodgers (37-22) trailing 2-1 in the eighth, Craig Kimbrel threw a run-scoring wild pitch. The ball, however, appeared to hit the foot of batter Brandon Crawford – something the Dodgers’ dugout was not aware of until shortstop Trea Turner yelled to them from the field.
Roberts said he tried to challenge the play but was told by the umpires the 20-second window to initiate a review had closed.
The run – which proved to be the deciding tally – stood as called.
Roberts, however, was more worried afterward about the offense’s missed opportunities.
“The story of the game was we weren’t good at all with runners in scoring position,” Roberts said.
The story of the Dodgers’ season, however, might now revolve around their ability to compensate for Buehler’s long-term absence.
Getting Kershaw back should help, as long as he stays healthy. Left-hander Andrew Heaney could be back from a shoulder injury as soon as next Sunday.
Still, as Kershaw pointed out, “No matter if Heaney and I are back or not, it’s tough to lose Walker for any amount of time.”
In the middle of Kershaw’s postgame scrum with reporters, his smartwatch started to ring. Buehler’s name popped up on the screen. He chuckled when asked if he needed to take it. Then, his tone became serious again when explaining the void his teammate’s long-term absence will leave.
“He’s a stud,” Kershaw said. “He’s pitched some huge innings in huge games for us and he’s been pretty consistent going out there every fifth day. So all of us are going to have to step up for however long he is out. ”
It might not be season-ending, but it will likely be for a long while.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.