Can Kershaw’s return spark listless Dodgers?

Though he is not The Bulldog, there exists a profound bulldog-like tenacity and determination in Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

Refusing to be permanently sidelined by a right hip injury that caused him to miss his turn in the rotation, Kershaw returned to a desperate Dodger team weary from playing under two months of constant pressure and turned in a gutsy, crafty performance in a 5-3 win in Cincinnati. The Dodgers kept pace with the St. Louis Cardinals, remaining three games out of the second Wild Card berth with nine games to play.

Working out of trouble and “rusty more than anything else”, according to manager Don Mattingly, Kershaw turned in five innings that seemed to offer an honest representation of the character of a pitcher who one year ago won a Cy Young. He walked five batters while striking out five and worked out of bases loaded jams in the first and fourth innings while using his effective pickoff move to catch Drew Stubbs attempting to steal second base in the fourth.

“He’s Clayton. He’s going to keep fighting and battling,” Mattingly said.

There were reports this week that the specialist Kershaw saw in New York did not foresee any extra damage to his ailing right hip should he continue pitching. The Dodgers, already down Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly in the starting rotation, could use the help of the talented left-hander, who has thrown 211 and two-thirds innings on the season.

As great as Kershaw has been again for the Dodgers, and as much as it would mean psychologically for a team to have its best pitcher and hardened bulldog on the mound every fifth day, the team isn’t as pitching-deprived as much as it is in need of a shot of offensive consistency. Los Angeles’ team ERA (3.45) has ranked third in the NL for much of the season behind Washington and Cincinnati.

Adrian Gonzalez, who hadn’t homered since his first at-bat with Los Angeles on Aug. 24, hit two homeruns in the Dodgers win, marking only the third time in 18 games that Los Angeles scored at least five runs.

Kershaw, despite having been skipped in the rotation and pitching at less than 100%, made the five runs of support stand up.

It’s a disappointment that the homegrown Dodger core of Kershaw, Billingsley and Matt Kemp has been so hobbled by injury this season. The absence of productive utility man Jerry Hairston and the innings-eater Lilly, who has appeared so comfortable at Dodger Stadium but underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on Friday, have also had detrimental impacts.

For Los Angeles to make the playoffs, a massive swing of momentum must take place that utterly contradicts their slow downward spiral in the summer months. Considering this team has failed to effectively capitalize on any momentum in the second half – save for a five-game streak spurred by a late comeback and Kemp walk-off homerun over Philadelphia in July – perhaps Kershaw can help the team.

That is if Kershaw can continue to take the ball every fifth day.

“Right now, I’m just seeing how I feel tomorrow,” he said after the game to Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times.  “I think that’s everybody’s mentality right now. We’ll make a decision from there, I’m sure.”