The return to the mound was a short one for Clayton Kershaw on Saturday evening, but that was by design.
In his first start since being placed on the disabled list June 1 with a lower back strain, the Dodgers ace threw 55 pitches in three innings, allowing two runs and five hits with one walk and four strikeouts against the Mets at Citi Field.
Before the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wouldn’t commit to a specific pitch count or innings limit but said he didn’t expect Kershaw to pitch deep into the contest.
The lefthander, who didn’t make any rehab appearances after the back strain, started the game with a three-pitch strikeout of Brandon Nimmo as part of an 11-pitch first inning.
But the Mets got to Kershaw in the second and third innings, with Michael Conforto and Jose Bautista delivering back-to-back doubles for a run in the second and Wilmer Flores adding an RBI single to leftfield in the third.
On a night when the Mets were throwing Jacob deGrom, who entered the game leading the major leagues with a 1.51 ERA, Roberts wanted to see Kershaw get back into a rhythm, adding that the pitcher’s presence brings added confidence to the Dodgers’ clubhouse.
“I think the bigger picture is he raises everyone’s level of play,” Roberts said. “And when you know you’ve got him every fifth day, it’s a game you essentially expect to win.”
Before the game, Mets manager Mickey Callaway spoke about Kershaw’s competitive nature, complimenting him on his ability to display fiery emotion while keeping his composure.
“He’s one of the most competitive guys you’ll ever see on the mound,” Callaway said, “and he shows his emotion and it doesn’t affect [his performance] and I think there’s something intimidating about that.”
The three-time Cy Young winner and former MVP has battled back injuries the past few seasons. He was sidelined roughly five weeks last year with a similar back injury.
He has made only three starts since May 1 and missed nearly a month with left biceps tendinitis. But when healthy, Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in baseball, exiting Saturday’s game with a 2.94 ERA.
“He is like a maniac out there in his pursuit to get you out,’’ Callaway said, “and I think you feel that.”
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