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Real or not? Clayton Kershaw comes back, but he certainly isn't right

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Dodgers concerned for Kershaw's health (1:29)

Pedro Gomez reports about Clayton Kershaw's low velocity Thursday and what steps the Dodgers are taking next. (1:29)

Clayton Kershaw returned to the Dodgers rotation on Thursday after spending 30 days on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis. He didn't make any rehab starts, so that complicates any reaction to his performance. He threw an efficient 62 pitches over five innings and allowed just one run on a two-out bloop single to center field in the second inning.

That's not what everyone is going to be talking about, however. Kershaw threw 20 four-seam fastballs, all of them 90 mph or slower. Compare that to 2017, when he threw 1,142 four-seam fastballs -- all of them faster than 90.0 mph. Kershaw's fastballs and average velocity by inning on Thursday against the Phillies:

First inning: Seven fastballs, 89.6 mph

Second inning: 11 fastballs, 89.1 mph

Third inning: Four fastballs, 87.7 mph

Fourth inning: Five fastballs, 87.5 mph

Fifth inning: One fastball, 87.0 mph

Clayton Kershaw being Clayton Kershaw, he threw 11 pitches in that fifth inning and struck out the side. He threw three sliders to Jorge Alfaro and got him looking at the third one. He struck out Aaron Nola, the opposing pitcher, with a changeup, curveball and slider. Then he got Cesar Hernandez looking at a 2-2 changeup.

Like the rest of the outing, I'm not sure how impressive the inning actually was, however, as Kershaw got a couple of gifts from home-plate umpire Will Little. The strike-three call on Alfaro had a strike probability of just 10 percent, and the high changeup on Hernandez is a strike only 4 percent of the time.

Still, it was all a little weird. After the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts revealed why that was the case: Kershaw's back tightened up during the game, and he will undergo an MRI. So that's an obvious explanation for why he was never able to crank up the fastball. We don't want to speculate on an injury, but Kershaw missed about five weeks last season with a back issue.

Unfortunately, it's hard not to start thinking that we've already seen the best of Kershaw, as the nagging injuries start piling up and the fastball velocity drops. Of course, he has never relied solely on power pitching. He has had one of the highest peak levels of performance ever because of all his tools, most notably his ability to locate his slider and curveball for strikes on any count, not simply as pitches to put away hitters with two strikes. Indeed, his fastball usage has slowly declined through the years:

2014: 56.5 percent

2015: 54.0 percent

2016: 50.6 percent

2017: 46.6 percent

2018: 44.5 percent

If any pitcher can still dominate with a 90 mph fastball, Kershaw would be a good bet, in part because he's already starting from such a high level of performance. Then again, you might have said the same thing about Felix Hernandez, and he has been vastly diminished, as his velocity has declined in recent seasons.

Anyway, one of the big subplots in the 2018 season has added a little more intrigue: Is Clayton Kershaw still one of the best pitchers -- or the best -- in the game? Remember, he led the NL in ERA and strikeout-to-walk ratio just last season. Even though the Dodgers rotation fared admirably without Kershaw, their playoff hopes might still reside on his health and his performance.

Oh, yeah, the Phillies won the game: Three quick thoughts here, as the Phillies won 2-1, with Alfaro driving in both runs:

1. Aaron Nola stole the show from Kershaw, allowing just two hits over seven innings. Nola is 7-2 with a 2.18 ERA, and he has become one of the more enjoyable starters to watch, a guy who knows how to pitch, hit the corners with his average-ish fastball and then drop in that beautiful curveball (batters are hitting .185 against it). The key for Nola this season has been an improved changeup, as he has held batters to a .496 OPS compared to .749 in 2017. That has helped neutralize lefties and eliminate the significant platoon split he had last season. He's an All-Star.

2. The Phillies are without Rhys Hoskins for a period of weeks after he broke his jaw Monday on his own foul ball. Hoskins hasn't been the same threat he was during his two-month tear last season, but with a .363 OBP, he was an on-base guy in the middle of the lineup. Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr will have to step up.

3. Two words on rookie reliever Seranthony Dominguez, who closed it out with two perfect innings, throwing just 23 pitches: Dear lord.

If you're looking for a closer for your fantasy team and this kid is available, pick him up.

Cardinals pull off dramatic rally: Earlier in the day, it was revealed that Alex Reyes is headed back to the DL with a lat strain, suffered on Thursday in his first start back after Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals rebounded from that bad news with a dramatic, five-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to stun the Pirates. Yairo Munoz provided the dramatic walk-off, and even though it was just his second major league homer, he knew it was gone:

Munoz is the youngest Cardinal with a walk-off homer since Colby Rasmus in 2009. A big factor for the Cardinals is Matt Carpenter has been picking it up at the plate. He bottomed out at .140 on May 15, although some of the underlying metrics did suggest he was hitting into some bad luck. Since then, he has hit .393/.456/.783 in 15 games. Dexter Fowler has had five hits the past two games, so maybe he'll get going. Then there's Marcell Ozuna ... if the Cardinals get him untracked, this offense might yet live up to expectations.

The Lindor and Ramirez show continues: How good are these guys? Jose Ramirez homered for the fourth time in five games, tying for the MLB lead with his 18th. But Francisco Lindor was the hero in a crazy 9-8 win for the Indians over the Twins, hitting the go-ahead homer in the eighth to cap a two-homer, four-hit game. His other two hits were doubles, making him just the fourth player since 1908 with two games of two doubles and two homers in the same season (Rafael Palmeiro in 1993, Jim Edmonds in 2003 and Adrian Beltre in 2007). This happened after the Indians had blown an 8-0 lead. Here's the go-ahead homer:

Extra credit for a Karim Garcia reference.

Joey Votto is still the best: I don't care if his power numbers are down. There's a clip out there of David Letterman and Jerry Seinfeld talking about Joey Votto. Here's Votto's response:

Don't change, Joey.