For the first time in a few years, Clayton Kershaw has entered spring camp with a full head of steam.
Ken Gurnick of MLB.com recently pointed out that spring training last year was borderline dreadful for the lefty starter, as he was dealing with a shoulder issue that eventually kept him on the shelf for the first three weeks of the regular season.
In 2017, it was a bad back that bogged Kersh down early—an injury that would resurface in 2018, causing the three-time Cy Young winner to spend time on the DL for 23 of the team’s games that summer.
Some fans actually believed it was that same back injury that seemingly put his career on a downward path.
Despite all that, the 2020 season appears to be following a different narrative—at least for now.
“I feel a lot better,” Kershaw told Gurnick on Sunday. “It’s fun. It feels good. Throughout the course of the season I felt pretty good, but to have a truly healthy offseason, I think I knew what to do a little better.”
Perhaps the biggest difference could be the fact that Kersh was able to keep his arm relatively loose all winter long.
“I did do something different this offseason,” Kershaw said. “I never really did stop throwing. I took a week off, then played catch twice or three times a week leading into the actual throwing program. It’s the first year I’ve done that. We’ll see if it pays off.”
Aside from his health, the fact that Los Angeles dramatically improved the team’s player roster may be another reason why Kershaw has entered camp with so much optimism and enthusiasm.
“That’s the beauty of being on this team,” Kershaw said to Gurnick. “We added Mookie Betts, we added David Price. Walker Buehler continues to get better. Julio Urias is going to have the reins taken off. We signed Alex Wood back. Jimmy Nelson looks good, Ross Stripling looks really good. We’ve got a lot of guys. Dustin May’s going to get better, Tony Gonsolin’s going to get better. There’s just so many. It’s just the signs of a good team.”
According to depth-chart models from several outlets, the front three of the Los Angeles rotation right now might consist of Buehler, Kershaw and Price, alongside two of either Urias, Wood, Nelson, May, Gonsolin or Stripling as the fourth and fifth starters.
With that particular grouping, it gives the team nine legitimate starters from which to build a front five and strategically work the injured list when somebody needs a break. Plus, there’s always the possibility of a front-line acquisition before the summer trade deadline at the end of July.
As far as the regular season goes, the projections by many outlets still have Kersh producing All-Star caliber numbers for the upcoming campaign. According to the Steamer figures on Fangraphs, CK will post a 14-9 record with a 3.55 ERA, a 3.68 FIP and a 4.4 fWAR over 32 appearances and 202 innings pitched.
Coincidentally, Baseball Reference has Kershaw tallying a 12-6 record with a 3.24 ERA over 164 innings of work.