Clayton Kershaw 'further along' than expected in his shoulder rehab

Nothing against the good folks of Rancho Cucamonga, but as much as Clayton Kershaw is itching to pitch in a game again, the Dodgers left-hander won’t be too thrilled to take the mound for the Class-A Quakes against Inland Empire at LoanMart Field next week.

“I’m definitely not excited — I don’t think anybody gets excited about rehab starts,” Kershaw said after throwing to hitters in a three-inning, 45-pitch simulated game Thursday in Dodger Stadium. “But it’s a necessary evil. It’s something you gotta do.

“This is good. You get your work in. But you gotta get in a game setting, get in that atmosphere. There may be a long inning, maybe stuff that you can’t really simulate here. So this is just the next step in the process.”

As much as he might downplay it, this is a big step for Kershaw, the three-time National League Cy Young Award winner who underwent surgery to repair the glenohumeral ligaments and capsule in his throwing shoulder last Nov. 3.

The Dodgers hoped Kershaw, 36, would return by early August, perhaps late July, but if he continues to progress at his current pace without a setback, Kershaw could return around the All-Star break.

“He’s much further along than we expected,” manager Dave Roberts said before Thursday night’s series finale against the Texas Rangers. “He’s unique in his body and mentality and mindset, the work ethic and all that. And obviously, Dr. [Neal] ElAttrache did a great job. He’s well beyond where I personally expected him to be.”

For all the injuries–some serious–that have sent Kershaw to the injured list in seven of his 16 big-league seasons, Kershaw had never undergone surgery before last year, so it’s difficult for him to determine if he is ahead or behind schedule.

“I’m right where I think I should be,” Kershaw said. “Everything has been pretty smooth sailing so far. No setbacks. Once again, I’ve never had surgery. I don’t really know how it goes. People say there are ups and downs. I really haven’t had the downs …

“Every box has been checked to this point, but I’m not getting my hopes up yet. There’s a lot that can happen in the next few weeks. But if everything goes well, I’ll be excited to get back, for sure.”

Pitching coach Mark Prior said Kershaw’s fastball hit 88-89 mph on Thursday, “which is pretty normal for all of his live [batting-practice] sessions,” he said. “Command of both sides of the plate was good. Looked crisp. Showed some life in the zone. The velocity will be what it is once he gets in a game environment.”

Kershaw mixed in some two-seam sinking fastballs and changeups with his usual four-seamer, slider and curveball on Thursday. Could he return to the Dodgers with a five-pitch mix?

“I’ll be like 4¼, we’ll see,” Kershaw, who has struggled to master a fourth pitch over the years, said with a grin. “This is a good time to try different stuff, and they actually feel OK right now. But a lot of things change when the lights come on, so we’ll see.”

If Kershaw were going through a normal spring training, he would be in the pre-exhibition-game phase, “like throwing live BPs, like the second week of camp,” Prior said. So Kershaw will need to make at least four or five minor league rehab starts over the next four weeks before he’s ready to return to the Dodgers rotation.

“We’ve been through enough surgical repairs, but shoulders are completely different animals than Tommy John [surgeries],” Prior said, referring to the elbow ligament replacement procedure. “We have somewhat of a sweet spot with [Tommy Johns], kind of like 12 to 14 months.

“Every shoulder is different, but I do think he’s progressed really well. Knock on wood, it’s been kind of a nice, steady trend line up to get to this point. And if that continues, I think we’re all gonna be pleasantly surprised it was a little sooner than later. We’re all cautiously optimistic about where he’s at.”

Yoshinobu Yamamoto update

Yoshinobu Yamamoto played catch and threw long-toss in the outfield and then completed a normal between-starts bullpen session Thursday afternoon, positioning the right-hander to make Saturday night’s start against the Kansas City Royals.

Yamamoto was originally scheduled to pitch Thursday night against the Rangers, but the Dodgers pushed him back to Saturday to give him two extra days of rest after he threw a season-high 106 pitches in a June 7 game at New York, where Yamamoto gave up two hits in seven scoreless innings in a 2-1 win over the Yankees.

“That was an emotional game,” Roberts said of Yamamoto, who is 6-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 13 starts, with 83 strikeouts and 16 walks in 72 innings. “To give him an extra couple of days and get him back on line Saturday, he should be fresh.”

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