Thrown For Loop?
Worry warranted, but don't panic
Yeah, a bit of worry is appropriate. We're just five games into the season and Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers' ace, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, is on the shelf at least two to three weeks with a back injury originally framed as nothing serious.
Obviously, there's a realistic chance a youngster such as Kershaw will heal up nicely without recurrence, and it's certainly comforting that this DL stint marks the first in his career. But the way things have played out are certainly disconcerting, particularly when paired with Brian Wilson's DL time for elbow nerve irritation. Beyond Wilson's importance as a crucial set-up man (and standard bearer for all things "beard"), this is a guy who was shelved for most of 2012 and 2013 after Tommy John surgery.
I have no idea if the ailments are related, but it still provides pause. The glass-half-full crowd will point out how among the Dodgers' many strengths is depth, and that "next-man-up" luxury can be applied to the pitching staff. And that's true, although two of the folks expected to provide security, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley, are both coming off injury and their own availability is a question mark. While his rookie season was nothing short of phenomenal, Hyun-Jin Ryu's arm is nonetheless not completely used to the workload uptick of playing baseball in the states.
Even Zack Greinke's preseason calf injury raises eyebrows when you consider Don Mattingly's concern that the Australia voyage (and subsequent shortened spring training process) may have played a role in Kershaw's and Wilson's situations. In other words, there could be a ripple effect from the early foundation, or lack thereof.
To be clear, it's hardly time to panic. After all, the Dodgers are 4-1 and have a lot of high-end players in the clubhouse to help offset the absences. Mattingly is clearly adept at keeping this particular crew focused. But it's probably not the worst time to learn the panic button location. Or at the very least, purchase a panic button, then put the button on mothballs and hope to never remove it from the closet.
Dodgers deep, and it's still so early
Obviously the news isn't ideal, as both Clayton Kershaw and Brian Wilson hit the disabled list this week. We're talking about the best pitcher in baseball and a critical Bridge to Kenley (along with a very handy insurance policy should misfortune come Jansen's way). Jittery fans are surely saying, "It's not even Tax Day and they're already banged up!" True, but the important part of that sentence is the beginning: It's not even Tax Day.
Even if Kershaw is shelved until mid-May or even into June, it still leaves plenty of time for him to make a significant impact. Moreover, the Dodgers are extremely well-equipped to deal with his absence. Zack Grienke is a No. 2 in LA only because Kershaw exists. Hyun-Jin Ryu was rock solid last season and, over his first 12 innings this year, hasn't given up a run. Dan Haren was top-end quality in the second half of 2013 and was great in his first start. Paul Maholm is a completely competent Major League starter, which is more than most teams can say about their fourth guy.
That still leaves Josh Beckett, Stephen Fife, (eventually) Chad Billingsley, Matt Magill and the emergency chute Zach Lee as potential options in the fifth spot. These are decidedly first-world problems, and even if they mean the Dodgers scuffle around .500 for six weeks -- I don't think they will -- nobody in the NL West will run away and hide.
The Kershaw thing is scary because he's Clayton Kershaw, but nobody seems to think his injury is one that won't improve with rest. Nobody used the sinister, black magic words "shoulder," or "elbow." Wilson is more disconcerting, wrapping not just "elbow" but "nerve" into the equation. But good as he was last year, the Dodgers won a lot of games before he signed, and bullpen guys are the easiest thing to acquire as a season goes along. Particularly for a front office with L.A.'s spending power.
So yeah, it's not ideal, and if possible, the Blue should cool it on the injury front for a while, but overall, as the great producer Stanley Motss said in "Wag the Dog," "This is nothing."