With three weeks to go in the regular season and the Los Angeles Dodgers locked in a tight pennant race, Clayton Kershaw is back just in time.
Kershaw struck out five in his first start since July 3 and the Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-1 on Monday night for their seventh straight home victory.
Activated from the injured list earlier in the day, Kershaw had missed 57 games with elbow inflammation.
“He’s been miserable,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He hates not competing and not playing. I know he’s been waiting for this day for quite some time.”
So have his teammates.
“We’re all just excited to see him back out there,” third baseman Justin Turner said.
“I missed it,” Kershaw said. “Not a lot of better feelings in the world than getting to pitch here and getting a win.”
The 33-year-old left-hander gave up four hits, walked one and didn't figure in the decision after throwing 50 pitches over 4 1/3 innings. Kershaw reached on an infield single in the second and sacrificed in the fourth.
“I was throwing more curveballs today than I have in the past, but that just seemed to work out best. Got to get that slider working," the three-time Cy Young Award winner said. “There’s not a lot of time to work out the kinks.”
Phil Bickford (4-2) got the win with one inning of scoreless relief.
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With the second-place Dodgers chasing NL West-leading San Francisco, Kershaw's return gives them another front-line starter to join Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer and Julio Urías, all of whom are strong Cy Young Award contenders.
“For me to be able to be part of it is huge,” Kershaw said. “Maybe I can get through six next time. That would be awesome.”
The defending World Series champion Dodgers remained 2 1/2 games behind the Giants in pursuit of their ninth consecutive division title. San Francisco clinched a playoff berth with its eighth straight win, 9-1 over San Diego.
“The Giants aren’t losing,” Kershaw said. “They’re not making it easy on us.”
Kershaw was throwing his fastball about 91 mph before going on the IL. He touched 90 a few times in the first when he needed 20 pitches to get out of the inning. He retired the side in the third, his only clean inning.
“To see him get up and down five times was fantastic," Roberts said. “The biggest thing was for him to come out of this feeling good and wanting for more.”
Austin Barnes doubled into the left-field corner in the sixth, extending the lead to 4-1.
Arizona's lone run came on Josh Rojas' RBI single in the first.
Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen (2-10) gave up four runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out four and walked three.
“They came out swinging in the first inning,” Gallen said.
Diamondbacks: RHP Tyler Clippard was cleared to resume baseball activity after being on the COVID-19 injured list, although he never tested positive for the virus. ... RHP Merrill Kelly had a 38-pitch bullpen in Arizona. He has been out since a positive COVID-19 test on Aug. 14. ... OF Kole Calhoun (strained left hamstring) will hit and begin a baserunning program. ... LHP Caleb Smith will throw a simulated game in Arizona on Tuesday to stay in shape while serving a 10-game suspension for having a foreign substance on his glove. Smith lost an appeal and began serving his punishment Saturday.
Dodgers: OF AJ Pollock (hamstring) has had no setbacks as he increases his activity daily. He won't travel with the team to Cincinnati later this week, and is expected to play in some minor league rehab games instead. ... INF/OF Chris Taylor (neck) missed his third straight game. The team is giving him a couple more days to improve before making a decision Wednesday on the injured list.
Making his fourth career start in left field, Gavin Lux cut in front of center fielder Cody Bellinger to catch a deep fly from Arizona's Carson Kelly in the third. Bellinger got smacked in the face by Lux's glove as they nearly collided on the warning track. Christian Walker came up next and hit another fly. Bellinger twice waved his glove in Lux's direction to keep him away and made the catch to end the inning. Lux ran off laughing.
Several former Dodgers stars came together to celebrate Tommy Lasorda bobblehead night. Ron Cey, former pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, Eric Karros, Rick Monday, Manny Mota, Chan Ho Park, Steve Yeager and Fernando Valenzuela swapped stories about their late Hall of Fame manager in the dugout before the game. They joined fans in the traditional shout of “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” as the crowd tipped their caps to the sky. Lasorda’s granddaughter, Emily, bounced a throw to Roberts for the ceremonial first pitch, with Lasorda’s daughter, Laura, looking on. Lasorda died in January at 93.
Diamondbacks: RHP Luke Weaver (3-4, 4.24 ERA) is 1-1 with a 5.25 ERA in three starts at Dodger Stadium.
Dodgers: RHP Tony Gonsolin (2-1, 2.79) makes his second start since coming off the IL. He faces Arizona for the fourth time this season, having allowed four runs in 9 1/3 innings without a decision.