Clayton Kershaw allows one run in return from biceps injury, but now his back is acting up

Thursday night the surging Los Angeles Dodgers welcomed staff ace Clayton Kershaw back from the disabled list. He had been out since May 1 with biceps tendinitis.

Rather than go out on a traditional minor league rehab assignment, Kershaw threw approximately 60 pitches in a simulated game earlier this week to prepare for Thursday's start. Despite the lack of a rehab start, Kershaw still held the Philadelphia Phillies (PHI 2, LAD 1) to one run in five innings.

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Clayton Kershaw LAD • SP • 22
May 31 vs. Phillies

While the results were good -- he did lower his ERA from 2.86 to 2.76 on Thursday -- Kershaw was noticeably lacking velocity in his return from the disabled list. In fact, he his fastball topped out at 90 mph.

Kershaw's fastball averaged 91.9 mph in his seven starts prior to the biceps injury, so his velocity was down considerably in his return Thursday. The good news is, even with reduced velocity, Kershaw was rather effective, and his secondary pitches were still missing bats. He generated a whopping 15 swings and misses among his 62 pitches, which is ridiculous. 

Perhaps in an effort to compensate for the lack of velocity, Kershaw relied on his slider heavily against the Phillies, throwing the pitch 31 times. He usually throws it around 35 percent of the time. Thursday is was exactly half the time. Here is Kershaw's velocity throughout his start. His fastball dipped as the game progressed.

Clayton Kershaw's fastball was missing its usual velocity in his return from the DL. Baseball Savant

That dip in velocity in the middle innings caught the eye of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who pulled his starter as something of a precaution. Turns out Kershaw's back was giving him trouble and the team may send him for tests.

Kershaw spent close to two months on the disabled list with back trouble in each of the last two seasons, so another flare up now is worrisome. Roberts said Kershaw will not travel with the team on the upcoming road trip, which seems to indicate they will take it easy on him at least in the short-term.

Now, it is entirely possible the reduced velocity and back tightness are a result of the month-long layoff. Remember, Kershaw did not go out on a minor league rehab assignment. He's been playing catch and throwing bullpens the last few weeks, and prior to Thursday's start, he worked one relatively short simulated game. The velocity and back issues could his body's way of telling him he's doing too much, too soon.

The Dodgers lost Kenta Maeda to a hip injury earlier this week and they're likely to use a bullpen game Friday because Alex Wood is being pushed back to give him extra rest. Also, youngster Walker Buehler is on an innings limit -- what that limit is, exactly, we're not sure -- so the team will need to manage his workload carefully the next few weeks. The rotation is a bit fragile at the moment. Losing Kershaw again would be problematic.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for,,,... Full Bio

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