The decision from Los Angeles Dodgers‘ manager Dave Roberts to pull Clayton Kershaw with a perfect game after seven innings and 80 pitches Wednesday spurred lots of negative reaction, but also some people who defended the move and cited the specific injury concerns involved with Kershaw. And one factor many of Roberts’ defenders referenced was how the shortened spring training period this year thanks to the MLB lockout meant that Kershaw (who is 34, and is coming off repeated arm injuries last season that held him out of the postseason) hasn’t thrown as much as he normally would at this point. That view got some endorsement from Kershaw himself after the game (a 7-0 Dodgers’ road win over the Minnesota Twins):
#Dodgers Clayton Kershaw says it was “the right decision” to pull him after 80 pitches. “Blame it on the lockout. Blame it on my not picking up a ball for three months (during the offseason)”
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) April 13, 2022
Clayton Kershaw said his slider was “horrible” the last two innings. Kershaw acknowledged the circumstances of today not being built up to 100 pitches yet. “Blame it on the lockout, blame it on me not picking up a baseball until January.” #Dodgers
— David Vassegh (@THEREAL_DV) April 13, 2022
Clayton Kershaw to @kirsten_watson on @SportsNetLA “Those are individual things. Those are selfish goals. We’re trying to win, that’s really all we’re here fot. As much as I would have wanted to do it, I’ve thrown 75 pitches in a sim game. I hadn’t gone 6 innings, let alone 7."
— Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) April 13, 2022
More Kershaw: "I knew going in my pitch count wasn't going to be 100 let alone 90. It's a hard thing to do, coming out of a game like that, but like I said, we're here to win, and this is the right choice."
— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) April 13, 2022
This obviously is not going to calm down the takes, which are already flying with the heat of 1,000 suns. There will still be many arguing that today’s MLB game is ruined by a focus on pitch counts and injury prevention rather than achieving individual milestones at all costs, or even racking up non-perfect complete games the way pitchers did decades ago when we knew far less about the toll pitching takes on the arm. And Kershaw’s comments won’t end that chorus.
It should be kept in mind as well that even if Kershaw was strongly against this move and wanted to stay in, he might not say that outright. Saying that explicitly would lead to a larger media furor, and to more criticism of Roberts, and both might not be desirable for Kershaw and the Dodgers. (However, if Kershaw didn’t like this decision, you’d expect to hear him offer a more muted “It’s not my call” or something rather than “This is the right choice”; that’s a pretty strong endorsement of the move Roberts made.)
In any case, it is notable to hear these comments from Kershaw. They may not end the debate over this move, but they do at least take out the supporting pylon of “Look how Dave Roberts ruined things for Clayton Kershaw!”, and that’s a significant shift to this discussion. If Kershaw himself says this was “the right decision,” it’s tough to argue that this was against his will. It can still be labeled “bad” or “good,” but it’s not “a move the Dodgers made over Kershaw’s objections.”
[Bill Plunkett on Twitter]