When the Dodgers remained silent at the close of trading, they did so with the expectation that their battered pitching staff would heal in the final two months of the season.
However, on the first day of September, they still have about as many questions as answers when it comes to health on the Hill.
On Thursday, they repeated a familiar sequence and received both good and bad news via multiple key arms.
The good: Clayton Kershaw shone on his return from a back injury, throwing five strong innings before the Dodgers pulled out a lead and lost 5-3 to the New York Mets at Citi Field.
The loss sealed the Dodgers’ first straight loss in more than a month and fell to perhaps their closest rivals in the National League pennant race.
The more troubling developments occurred prior to the first pitch.
For the second time in two months, helper Brusdar Graterol was put on the injured list, this time because of what the team said was an infected right elbow.
Then, during his afternoon scrum, manager Dave Roberts said injured starter Tony Gonsolin’s sprained right forearm “just didn’t progress as quickly” as originally hoped and that the pitcher will get an MRI on Friday.
“Right now, right now,” Roberts admitted, “yeah, we’re a little bit bruised than we hoped.”
In the final five weeks of the regular season, there may be no more important storyline for the Dodgers than the evolving health of their pitching staff.
Already since the deadline, they’ve brought back Dustin May and Kershaw, who gave up a five-inning run in the series finale but lost Walker Buehler to surgery by Tommy John, and are now awaiting more information on Gonsolin.
Graterol will also join Gonsolin in the MRI tube on Friday so the team can learn more about an elbow problem that the right-hander says emerged on his last outing on Sunday.
“There is moderate concern,” Roberts said of Graterol, who missed time in August with a shoulder injury. “He’s obviously a strong, physical guy, but having him in and out, healthy and unhealthy, is a little disconcerting.”
While Blake Treinen is expected to be activated for the team’s opener against the San Diego Padres on Friday, marking his return from a shoulder injury that has kept him out since April, the Dodgers are still awaiting the return of four other injured assists at center -through the end of September: Yency Almonte (who was feeling fine after a bullpen session on Wednesday), as well as Danny Duffy, Tommy Kahnle and Victor González (who are all on rehab assignments).
“There was a lot of inconsistency on the pitching side, the mixing and matching of the pen, the starters in and out, and the players did a great job on the buckles,” Roberts said. “It was different, but we found a way to make it work.”
Kershaw provided some much-needed stability on Thursday.
He spent three walks in the first inning, including a bases-loaded free pass, to open the scoring before shaking off the gridiron and retiring his final 13 batsmen of the day.
In a 74-pitch game, he hit six, letting just two more balls leave the infield and lowering his season ERA to 2.59.
“It only took me an inning,” said Kershaw, who had not served since suffering his second back injury of the season on Aug. 4. And after that I could try to make some adjustments, figure things out.”
After Kershaw was eliminated, the Dodgers (90-40) let a 2-1 lead built on Chris Taylor’s two-run single in the second inning pull away.
Sloppy defense and wobbly relief pitching led to two rallies in two runs for the Mets (84-48) in the sixth and seventh innings, with second baseman Gavin Lux slowing a groundball in the sixth before catching up with Mookie Betts on a notified pop-up in the seventh.
“For me, we definitely beat ourselves,” Roberts said. “I don’t think we played great defensively the whole road trip. … They’ve played better baseball throughout the series.”
Roberts was upbeat about one thing Thursday, hopeful Kershaw would hold out for the stretch run despite the pitcher’s long history of back problems.
“We attributed it to a flare-up,” Roberts said. “We just feel like that will be enough to see him strong and healthy through the season.”
The Dodgers hope better.
With almost a month to go before the close, they’re still nowhere near as healthy as they thought they were on the Hill.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2022-09-01/dodgers-mets-recap-clayton-kershaw-tony-gonsolin-injury Clayton Kershaw returns amid troubling Dodgers developments