The Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace finally made his first rehab appearance with Rancho Cucamonga on Friday and succeeded both on and off the mound, reporting no problems physically after his start. But, is the 26-year-old lefty ready to make his first stateside start in the majors?

Clayton Kershaw returned from Australia with a win and a pulled muscle in his back. The club began by saying it wasn’t believed to be major, but later admitted that he’d need to be placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career and begin a throwing program that would last 2-3 weeks.

After a few successful bullpen sessions and a simulate game, Kershaw was deemed ready for his first minor league rehab start. The results were solid, as he threw 56 pitches in five innings, allowing a pair of hits, one run, one walk and racked up six strikeouts. Kershaw threw all four pitches and only struggled a few times; once surrendering a four pitch walk and falling behind a batter 3-1, before grooving a fastball that was smacked for a home run. Overall, the southpaw looked like his old self.

However, the postgame interview was somewhat cryptic. After recuperating for a half hour, a swarm of reporters filled the quaint Quakes’ clubhouse and cornered Kershaw in front of his locker. Question after question was fired, but many were deflected masterfully by the $215 million man.

Kershaw said he felt “ready to go” after the five innings and that “everything went to plan”, a good sign that he’s had no setbacks in his rehabilitation. However, when asked what was next, the veteran was less forthcoming, bluntly stating “I don’t know.” Kershaw also stated that he hadn’t talked to manager Don Mattingly about his situation, while Mattingly has said he’d like his starter to go through one more rehab start. That was later confirmed by the team and the pitcher wasn’t happy.

So, what should the Dodgers do in this situation? Do they side with the pitcher and bring him back when he says he’s ready, or do they take the more cautious route and build up his arm strength before he returns to the major leagues? The seems to be good reasoning in the Dodgers opting for the latter choice.

Consider Chad Billingsley, who tore his ulnar collateral ligament in late 2012. He attempted to rehab and pitch through it, but ended up needing Tommy John surgery anyway. To add insult to injury, Billingsley returned sooner than expected, facing batters less than a year after going under the knife, and is now sidelined with tendinitis in his elbow. This chain of events may have had some influence over the club’s decision regarding Kershaw’s return.

Whether it’s one more rehab start or five, the Dodgers are taking it easy with their ace and rightfully so. While Kershaw may not be happy that he has to wait to pitch in the big leagues again, it’s better than rushing him back only to see him land back on the disabled list.
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