Clayton Kershaw's rehab is still trending upwards. What Dodgers rotation will he return to?

LOS ANGELES — His work for the day complete, Clayton Kershaw expressed satisfaction. The longtime Los Angeles Dodgers ace strode out to the outfield accompanied by his manager, Dave Roberts, who observed the left-hander as he threw.

This represented progress. This time 10 days ago, he threw a bullpen and reported discomfort, a warning sign in his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery that had lasted just one rehab start to that point. A subsequent MRI, a meeting with Dr. Neal ElAttrache and “some shots” have cleared things up. So Kershaw returned to throwing this week. Next, he’ll throw a bullpen. And yet …

“I’m not happy,” Kershaw said. “But I’m not going to be happy until I get to go back out there.”

Roberts was much more bullish. The manager maintained his cheery disposition. He and the Dodgers are optimistic that this shouldn’t impact his timeline much.

“I don’t want to say if it’s before the break or right after the (All-Star) break, but I’m encouraged where he’s at right now,” Roberts said.

The Dodgers still envision a future where Kershaw is part of their rotation this summer. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is still getting used to all that comes with this process. After all, at 36 years old, he’s coming off his first arm surgery. When he felt like he couldn’t complete his bullpen last week without discomfort, he shut things down.

“Just some old-man shoulder,” he said of the subsequent testing on his shoulder, which underwent repairs to his glenohumeral ligaments and capsule in November.

That was a relief. But Kershaw came clean: the wait has gotten harder the closer he’s gotten to returning.

“I don’t want to say it’s been miserable because I’ve gotten to spend time with my family and have a lot more family time and be able to hang out with them more,” Kershaw said. “But I mean, yeah.

“You don’t feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Even though it was kind of part of the deal with surgery, you knew you’d be out for some time, being around it more now and getting closer and like kind of tasting being able to be back out there, each day is starting to be a little bit more tedious.”

Who he’ll be rejoining was in flux for much of June. Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Walker Buehler hit the injured list. Bobby Miller returned from right shoulder inflammation, then scuffled. Tyler Glasnow and James Paxton combined to allow 14 runs over the weekend to a scuffling Giants club, leading Roberts to lament the state of their starting pitching. While they should have the depth to last until October, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to know the Dodgers have called on White Sox left-hander Garrett Crochet. It won’t be the last name they’re tied to.

Miller, for his part, took something of a step forward Tuesday night in an eventual 6-5 Dodgers walk-off win. He allowed just two runs over his five innings but battled both inconsistent command and diminished velocity — a byproduct, he said, of guiding the ball in to try to land his pitches in certain spots.

“Shoulder’s felt great but yeah, it was definitely tougher coming back mentally from the injury,” Miller said. “Just trying to do too much when I came back.”

He didn’t throw a single fastball that matched or topped his season average of 98 mph. And when the Diamondbacks applied pressure in the fourth, leveling the score on a two-run homer from Christian Walker, Miller struggled to defuse it. The next three Arizona hitters reached safely to load the bases, forcing the 25-year-old to work out of a bases-loaded, no-out spot just to keep things knotted.

When he escaped, striking out Alek Thomas before getting Geraldo Perdomo to pop out and Corbin Carroll to ground out harmlessly, Miller let out a roar. This, he said, can be a pivot point.

“That,” Roberts said, “is something he will build off of.”

The Dodgers have high hopes after Miller emerged as the club’s most reliable starter last summer. That, they hope, is still possible for the rest of this one.

“When you talk about a big piece of the puzzle, a lot of that is talent,” Roberts said before Miller’s start. “He’s got a lot of talent. He’s performed. So now, looking where we’re at right now, with the uncertainty in our starting rotation, you have to have guys step up.”

For all their uncertainty, the Dodgers’ rotation has managed well. They’d logged the seventh-best ERA in baseball (3.63) entering Tuesday night while deploying their goal of getting each of their options as much rest as possible.

They’ve been successful. But how they’ll manage to make things work into October remains a mystery.

Yamamoto is currently “pain-free,” according to Roberts, but hasn’t started throwing yet. Roberts didn’t know when they would begin. With a strained rotator cuff and a $325 million contract, Yamamoto is someone they’ll have to handle delicately. So, his timeline is unclear.

Same with that of Buehler, who returned off a second Tommy John surgery to make an up-and-down eight starts before the Dodgers shelved him. Those outings yielded a 5.84 ERA, along with real questions about how effective his fastball could be now having gone under the knife twice. Inflammation in his hip allowed the Dodgers and Buehler some time to sort out a solution.

So, while his hip no longer appears to be bothering him, there isn’t a clear return plan. He is throwing, Roberts said, though he was not at Dodger Stadium as the club came back from its recent road trip. He has been working “offsite,” Roberts said, both in Arizona and at a private facility in Florida — that facility is Cressey Sports Performance, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

“He’s doing a little bit of everything,” Roberts said.

But he is also a reminder that just getting back on the mound is not a victory in itself.

(Photo of Clayton Kershaw during a workout at Dodger Stadium in June: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

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