Kershaw might not be ready for Opening Day

Clayton Kershaw's status as the Los Angeles Dodgers' Opening Day starter, a tradition that has spanned nearly a decade, is now in question.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts acknowledged for the first time Monday that Kershaw, recently set back by shoulder inflammation, might not have enough time to get stretched out for his team's first regular-season game on March 28.

"That's fair," Roberts told reporters from Glendale, Arizona, while adding that the ace left-hander is nonetheless "trending in the right direction."

Kershaw has reportedly played catch in four of the past five days and was said to have stretched out to about 60 feet on Monday. But there is still no timetable for his return to the mound. Kershaw hasn't thrown a bullpen session since reporting shoulder soreness to the club on Feb. 20.

Kershaw would have to progress from bullpen sessions to live batting practice before getting cleared for game action. He would then probably need at least four starts to be ready for the season. Given that, Kershaw would have to make his first spring training start by Friday in order to be ready for Opening Day on March 28 at Dodger Stadium against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

That seems like a long shot, but Roberts nonetheless said he is "hopeful."

Walker Buehler, a budding Cy Young candidate, is the most logical Opening Day starter if Kershaw is not ready, but the Dodgers have been slow-playing him as a way to ease his forthcoming workload. Outside of that, there is plenty of rotation depth to temporarily make up for Kershaw's absence, with Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling and perhaps even Julio Urias filling out the staff.

Kershaw has made eight consecutive Opening Day starts, six shy of the record set by Hall of Famer Jack Morris.

"There's just way too much importance put on the Opening Day roster," Roberts, who announced Kershaw as his Opening Day starter on Feb. 19, told reporters. "The number one thing is for him to be ready and to feel confident physically and mentally, and when that is, it is."