Dodgers LHP Kershaw eyes return after throwing sim game

As part of a Father's Day celebration, Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) and relief pitcher Tom Koehler walk onto the field with their children before a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants in Los Angeles, Sunday, June 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

CHICAGO (AP) The last time Clayton Kershaw pitched at Wrigley Field, the ace left-hander helped lead the Los Angeles Dodgers into the World Series.

It was a much different situation Monday. But still important for the Dodgers.

Kershaw threw a three-inning simulated game before Los Angeles’ series opener against the Chicago Cubs was postponed, taking another step forward in his recovery from a strained lower back. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner said he felt really good and plans to pitch somewhere in four or five days, either in a minor league rehab start or for the Dodgers.

”It was good, very encouraged,” manager Dave Roberts said. ”Just the way that the ball was coming out today, the command of the fastball as good as it’s been for me – and obviously this setting is not a major league game – but for me the best it’s been in a month, for sure.”

The 30-year-old Kershaw was sidelined for nearly a month with left biceps tendinitis before returning May 31 against Philadelphia. He tossed five effective innings in a no-decision against the Phillies, and then went back on the disabled list the next day with the back injury.

The Dodgers said over the weekend that Kershaw was headed for a simulated game Tuesday or Wednesday – in Los Angeles. But Kershaw said that was just one of the plans in the mix.

”I knew it was probably going to be here,” he said. ”It’s just more of a logistical thing. It’s just harder to do in L.A. Nobody’s there when you go on the road.

”It’s just when you have hitters in there it’s good to see some, even though it’s a sim game at least you have them reacting. It was a little bit better today.”

The trip brought Kershaw back to one of the best moments of his outstanding career, a crisp six innings in an 11-1 victory over Chicago in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series last October – sending Los Angeles to the World Series for the first time since 1988. The Dodgers then lost to the Astros in seven games for the title.

He also was greeted by some Los Angeles-like weather, with temperatures in the mid-90s on a steamy day in the Midwest.

”It was hot,” he said. ”It was good, it lets you get loose.”

Kershaw is 1-4 with a 2.76 ERA in just eight starts this year for Los Angeles, which has been riddled by injuries. He missed about five weeks last season with a similar back injury.

While Roberts left open the possibility Kershaw could return this weekend against the Mets, he said the organization was leaning toward a rehab start, likely with Triple-A Oklahoma City.

”You look at how much he’s pitched over the last two months and it hasn’t been a whole lot,” he said. ”So to see it in real competition, obviously that makes a lot of sense.”

Los Angeles had won five of six heading into the three-game set with Chicago. The opener was postponed because of rain and a limited power outage at Wrigley, creating a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday.

The Dodgers have more help on the way than just Kershaw.

Rich Hill is slated to start Tuesday night in his first major league game since May 19. The veteran left-hander has been sidelined by a blister on his left middle finger.

Infielder Chase Utley, who has been sidelined by left thumb sprain, is expected to come off the DL on Tuesday or Wednesday. Rookie right-hander Walker Buehler, one of baseball’s top pitching prospects, is scheduled for a bullpen session Saturday in New York, continuing his comeback from a right rib microfracture.

”From that point on we’ll have a little more information and figure out how aggressive we’ll want to be with him,” Roberts said.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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