MILWAUKEE — The Los Angeles Dodgers’ rotation already was a patchwork-quilt kind of affair — nine different starters this season, four making their big league debuts — and that was before Clayton Kershaw was pointed toward the disabled list Thursday.
Kershaw’s DL move likely will be made official Friday afternoon at some point, before the Dodgers open a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies. The game also kicks off a 10-game homestand, the longest of the season, and one that encompasses the Fourth of July, typically one of the more celebratory days of the year.
If fireworks can burst inward, they will after Monday night’s game at the ballpark atop the hill.
Yet for the massive bad news heaped on Dodgers fans Thursday, there were signs of hope. The Dodgers did beat the Milwaukee Brewers 8-1, and Kershaw was diagnosed with a mild disk herniation in his lower back, an injury that will not require surgery.
With Kershaw’s recovery plan for lower-back pain already underway with an epidural shot Wednesday, the next step was to find the poor soul who will have to replace him in the rotation. Bud Norris, come on down. The 31-year-old right-hander, in his eighth major league season, is the guy who has to replace THE GUY, at least in the short term.
Nobody is expecting Kershaw stuff from Norris upon his arrival from the Atlanta Braves. It doesn’t matter who starts Friday — it will be hard enough to replicate the kind of performances Kershaw gives every fifth day, much less the leadership and the sense of reassurance the left-hander provides.
At the very least, the Dodgers found a hot pitcher for the role. Norris has made five consecutive starts, compiling a 2.15 ERA as the Braves went 4-1 in those games. Adding his one relief appearance in June and he has a 2.08 ERA in the month.
Those numbers provide a bit more hope than Norris’ body of work this season, which includes a 3-7 record, a 4.22 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP, almost double Kershaw’s league-leading total.
Norris’ arrival means the Dodgers are now looking at a 10th different starting pitcher. And by going the veteran route in a trade, they avoided the possibility of a fifth starter to make his debut.
The latest to burst upon the scene for the Dodgers was Brock Stewart, who delivered five innings Wednesday night at Milwaukee, four of which were really good. The one that was not? Stewart gave up five runs in the second, and the Dodgers lost 7-0.
The Dodgers touted starting-pitching depth this spring, but this is mining to Earth’s hot core at this point. Landing a pitcher via trade, in Norris, the day before he starts, is not exactly standard operating procedure.
Neither is the route Stewart took to the Dodgers. The Illinois native started the season at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga before taking the longer eastern route on I-10 to travel 47 miles west to Dodger Stadium.
In addition to announcing Kershaw’s move to the disabled list, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts also said that Stewart will get at least one more start. That figures to come Monday at home against the Baltimore Orioles.
Norris’ plan would take him from Friday’s start to an outing Wednesday at home against Baltimore.
With Kershaw’s disabled-list stint expected to be backdated to Monday (he last pitched Sunday), he technically could return from the DL July 15 when the second half opens at Arizona.
“He’s been our most valuable player, and when you lose a player to the disabled list like Clayton, that you have counted on every fifth day for a start, obviously that’s out of all of our control,” Roberts said, when asked what he is thinking about as his best player goes to the sideline for an extended period. “I know Clayton is very disappointed. But it’s up to us to pick him up.”
Thursday was a good start, then. Kenta Maeda did his best to give the pitching staff a boost by giving up just one run on three hits over six innings to beat the Brewers.
“It hurts to lose Kershaw,” Maeda said afterward through an interpreter. “But my job is to throw as many innings as possible regardless and help the team win.”
There was more than just Maeda contributing Thursday. Trayce Thompson, now the starting center fielder until Joc Pederson can return from his bruised right shoulder, crushed a home run, his first since June 16. Thompson had been dealing with his own back issue that cropped up a month ago.
Yasmani Grandal and Corey Seager also hit home runs, with Seager moving to a team-leading 17 on the season. In his rookie year, Seager has become the offensive leader for the Dodgers and will be a sure All-Star Game participant.
The offensive eruption was not at all atypical. But as Roberts suggested, to compensate for the loss of Kershaw, everybody will have to contribute.
“Obviously it is a big blow to lose Clayton for any length of time, but I think our guys have made a point that we are going to move forward,” Roberts said after Thursday’s victory. “We’re going to go out there and keep winning baseball games, and obviously we did that today. That’s our goal tomorrow. And to get Bud on our roster is a good thing and another step in the right direction for us.”