Asked before the Dodgers' 6-0 Game 3 win on Tuesday about the potential for Kershaw to pitch on short rest for Game 5, manager Dave Roberts first said he just wanted to concentrate on the night ahead. But he did admit that it is not out of the question that Kershaw could be asked to pitch in Game 5, on three days of rest, under certain circumstances.
Should the Chicago Cubs win Game 4 at Dodger Stadium, leaving the series tied at 2, Roberts said Kershaw's appearance in Game 5 is less likely. But if the Dodgers win Game 4 and are on the verge of clinching a World Series berth, then anything is possible with the rotation.
Another deciding factor on Kershaw's early use would have to do with how taxed the relievers are entering Thursday night's game. Kershaw did pitch on short rest in Game 4 of the NL Division Series, when the Dodgers were facing elimination against the Washington Nationals.
"That's why there is no definitive, because there are a lot of variables," Roberts said. "Game 4 in the division series, it was because of the use of the pen and all that stuff -- and that is why we went Kersh instead of Julio [Urias]. So that's why it's not as easy just to make one decision right now."
Kershaw, for one, said he's ready for whatever Roberts throws at him.
"Feeling good. All good," he told Fox during Tuesday's game.
"In the playoffs you just kind of wait and see how things are going. I understand that, and I'm ready for that. Whatever game they pick."
If Kershaw is not asked to start Game 5 on Thursday, that outing is expected to go to Kenta Maeda. But the Dodgers' rookie right-hander has struggled of late, giving up eight earned runs in a combined 6⅔ innings in his last two regular-season starts, and giving up seven earned runs in a combined seven innings of his two postseason starts.
"After [the Game 4] result, it will be a little more clear, but still, nothing definitive yet," Roberts said.
Kershaw pitched in three of the five division series games against the Nationals, starting Game 1, and again in Game 4 on three days of rest. The Dodgers won both games. Kershaw then recorded the final two outs of the club's Game 5 victory on one day of rest.
Three days after that two-out save, Kershaw pitched seven scoreless innings in Sunday's Game 2 of the NLCS, securing the victory and helping L.A. even the series at 1. The first four games the Dodgers won this postseason were games in which Kershaw threw at least one pitch.
All told, Kershaw threw 19⅓ innings over a 10-day stretch. He is the first pitcher to throw that many innings over four or more postseason games in a 10-day stretch since former Dodgers ace Orel Hershiser in 1988.
The heavy workload, though, combined with the back injury that forced Kershaw to miss 75 days in the regular season, gives the Dodgers pause when leaning so heavily on their best pitcher.
"I think his health has to be the No. 1 factor," Roberts said. "That's why the decisions we've made -- we talked to the training staff, we talked to Clayton most importantly, and have felt comfortable with it."
Roberts said Kershaw is feeling fine after his heavy postseason use thus far, but the club won't take that for granted.
"Yeah, I just think it is unfair just to assume anything because he is Clayton," Roberts said. "So, for us, internally, this is something we have to be mindful of, and we are."