WASHINGTON -- Every flinch, hand flick, leg shake and general look of discomfort from a Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher will be overanalyzed now that Clayton Kershaw's time on the disabled list has been reset to indefinite.
The Dodgers have not just had bad luck with injuries this season, especially those to the pitching staff. They have had it as bad as anybody in baseball, considering only two of the team's projected Opening Day starters have made every turn so far this season.
If any team thinks it can match the Dodgers' lack of injury luck, all the Dodgers have to do is tell the tale of Kershaw, whose lower back pain materialized after his June 26 outing and was believed to be subsiding when last Saturday’s simulated game started the issue anew.
Three weeks of downtime served could lead to six, if not more, considering the Dodgers are determined to be less aggressive with their ace pitcher’s injury rehab now.
It’s why Scott Kazmir's uncomfortable catch of a comebacker in the fifth inning Tuesday -- and subsequent poor throw to first base -- sent manager Dave Roberts and a trainer racing from the dugout.
Kazmir continued, with the internal static caused by cramping that has plagued him in the past, but that moment supported the notion that the Dodgers do not have any more logs for the fire, no matter how harsh the conditions become.
Give the Dodgers credit for doing whatever it takes to not only overcome the loss of key players but also stay on the field by whatever creative means necessary.
“I think I drank everything pretty much under the sun: pickle juice, some mustard,” Kazmir said. “I think I had some of that on my face the next half-inning. But it was a lot of stuff that actually worked, so I was good after that.”
The path ahead will not be a picnic. No scenario for Dodgers success had Kershaw missing three weeks of action, much less however long he will be out now that he has had a setback in his recovery. The Dodgers were hopeful the staff ace could be back by the end of this road trip; now the end of the month appears out of the question.
If there is a positive in any of the latest Kershaw news, it is that the Dodgers' 8-4 victory over the Nationals on Tuesday improved their record to 12-6 in the time their best pitcher has been out of action.
The run has been led by a stingy bullpen as well as an offense trying to roar to life after a miserable opening few months. There is a sporadic offensive backfire now and again, like Saturday and most of Sunday at Arizona, but Tuesday’s 13-hit explosion was a welcome sight.
“I just think it’s a credit to our guys,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Our guys are focused on doing a little bit more individually. We have a long way to go. We are going to enjoy this one.”
The Dodgers moved to within 4½ games of the San Francisco Giants, who lost their fourth consecutive game Tuesday. It is the closest the Dodgers have been to the National League West leaders since June 11, when they were four back. They have gained 3½ games on the Giants since Kershaw's last start.
The recent struggles with the bats in the desert did not continue in Washington, as the Dodgers faced Reynaldo Lopez in his major league debut. Chase Utley got things going early with a leadoff home run, and Joc Pederson added a two-run single in the opening inning.
The only discernible blip on this day was the three runs that reliever Chris Hatcher gave up after facing just three batters. But Kenley Jansen closed out the game in a non-save situation, just before a torrential downpour that included lighting, thunder and quarter-size hail. Now, that is teamwork.
“I think knowing that [Kershaw] was going to the DL and was going to be down for some time, you realize that you have to pick it up a little bit,” Utley said. “It’s tough losing essentially the best pitcher in baseball.”
The Dodgers' run is one that will not be easy to maintain, but Roberts is confident the Dodgers have the pitching resources to get the job done until Kershaw returns.
“I think it’s a group mindset, and we have talked about it that everybody has to do a little more,” Roberts said. “That’s the way we’ve been approaching things, and the results, I don’t know the record [in Kershaw’s absence], but I do know there has been a concerted effort to do that from the guys.”