Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is expected to return to the team next week for the team's game on Monday against the Nationals in Washington, according to the Los Angeles Times' Kevin Baxter. The 26-year-old reported no setbacks after striking out nine batters over five innings in what is likely to be the final start of his rehab assignment.
Kershaw last pitched in the majors on Opening Day in Sydney, Australia, where he struck out seven over 6⅔ innings and allowed just one run. He threw 102 pitches in that game, and the Dodgers expect him to be able to top out at around that amount in his next outing. That is likely to come on Monday due to the success Kershaw has experienced in the minors.
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He strained a muscle in his upper back and shoulder shortly after his first start of the year, subsequently missing five weeks in recovery. However, his return will come soon enough for him to have a legitimate shot at repeating as the National League's Cy Young award winner if he pitches as he has over the last several seasons.
Paul Maholm has been spelling Kershaw in Los Angeles' rotation, and he's the most likely candidate to be relegated to the bullpen upon his fellow left hander's return. He's posted a 4.74 ERA in four starts, striking out nine and walking nine. With Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, Josh Beckett, and Dan Haren ahead of him, he appears to be the odd man out.
The Dodgers' bullpen has been a solid unit so far in 2014, but Paco Rodriguez hasn't been quite as successful as he was in 2013, so Maholm will figure into the team's plans for lefty-lefty match ups and perhaps a spot start on occasion.
The team is 15-12 and a game-and-a-half behind the NL West leading San Francisco Giants. Kershaw will certainly help them as they attempt to repeat as division champs.