Dodgers manager Dave Roberts expects Clayton Kershaw to regain velocity

LAS VEGAS -- Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is "very hopeful" that Clayton Kershaw will regain some of his velocity in 2019, a stated goal for the star left-hander as he heads into his age-31 season.

Kershaw, who signed a three-year, $93 million extension with the Dodgers shortly after the World Series, was able to pitch effectively with a fastball that hovered in the low 90s last season. He finished the regular season with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP, but his strikeout rate (8.6) and his hits per nine innings (7.8) were the highest since he was a rookie in 2008.

"If anyone sets their mind to something that they want to sort of tap back into, it's Clayton," Roberts said during Tuesday's winter meetings media session at Mandalay Bay. "If you look back at what Clayton did this year, still pretty good. There were a couple of mistakes with the slider, the fastball, but he can still pitch when he needs to pitch. But I do expect an uptick in velocity next year."

Kershaw is spending his offseason in Dallas, as usual, and is working with Dodgers strength and conditioning coach Brandon McDaniel. Kershaw is hopeful that getting his body right again will realign the mechanics of his complex delivery, which fell out of whack while he dealt with back injuries over the past three years.

Shortly after signing his extension on Nov. 2, Kershaw talked about how he is "looking forward to proving a lot of people wrong" and brought up the possibility of getting his fastball closer to the mid-90s, which is where it sat when he won three Cy Young Awards from 2011 to 2014.

"I'm not counting that out," Kershaw said then. "It very well could. I have some ideas on maybe what I can do to improve on that, because there's a lot of guys who are older than me, there's a lot of guys with more innings in the big leagues, that are still maintaining their velocity. There's some things for me definitely to look into that; there's some things for me to work on in the offseason."

Roberts brought up Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander as an example of someone who regained velocity, though he doesn't expect Kershaw to reach the upper 90s the way Verlander still can.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman downplayed the overall need for Kershaw to increase his velocity, adding that better execution would be enough for improved success. But Roberts noted that an uptick would increase Kershaw's margin for error, while giving him more confidence to throw fastballs glove side and also playing up his slider.

"There's so much data now, body movements and things, and how you can be out of whack with your mechanics that you can kind of work on and work through, that it's in there," Roberts said. "And the No. 1 thing for me -- his work ethic, his desire, and he's healthy."