It's not uncommon for Clayton Kershaw to skip a start in September as the Los Angeles Dodgers prepare for the playoffs.
But this time it's different.
With the Dodgers (89-57) yet to clinch their 10th National League West title in the past 11 seasons, Kershaw was passed over the last time through the rotation to rest his ailing left shoulder.
Kershaw (12-4, 2.61 ERA) is scheduled to start against the host Seattle Mariners on Saturday night, when the Dodgers could pop the champagne with a victory. Los Angeles also could celebrate by the end of the evening in a number of other scenarios.
Kershaw is 2-0 in five starts since returning from the injured list Aug. 10, though he's not pitched more than five innings in any of those outings. He didn't get a decision in his last appearance Sept. 5 at Miami, a game the Dodgers lost 6-3, as he went five innings and allowed three runs on five hits with five walks and three strikeouts.
Not only were the five walks concerning, but Kershaw never reached 90 mph on the radar gun.
"It wasn't great mechanically — control and all that wasn't great," he said. "So yeah, just need to keep going. There's really nothing else to do. Just try to pitch better."
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced last Sunday that Kershaw would skip his Monday start against San Diego.
"He's just going to try to stay sharp," Roberts said. "And I talked to him about what we're kind of prognosticating, and he's in with it."
Roberts suggested Kershaw's shoulder injury could be affecting his command, but the 35-year-old wasn't buying it.
"Just a combo really, the stuff and the command. Both bad. Just need to keep working," said Kershaw, who is 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA in four career starts against Seattle. "I'll talk to (pitching coach Mark Prior), try to see. I think there's a few thoughts for us that can maybe help."
Eugenio Suarez went deep for Seattle (81-66), which had a two-game winning streak snapped. The Mariners missed a chance to make up ground in the American League West after both Houston and Texas lost. Seattle remained 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Astros and a half-game ahead of Toronto for the AL's third and final wild-card playoff berth.
"Late September baseball in a pennant race, every pitch matters and every out matters," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "We saw it (Friday).
"We'll come back (Saturday). The atmosphere in the ballpark was great. It's exactly what we expected. Certainly, Dodger fans are here. Our fans are here. It's gonna be a really good series. We gotta get back after it."
Mariners rookie right-hander Bryce Miller (8-5, 4.05 ERA), like Kershaw a Texas native, is set to take the mound Saturday.
Miller, who has yet to face the Dodgers in his career, is coming off a 6-3 loss Sunday at Tampa Bay. He allowed five runs on nine hits over five innings with seven strikeouts vs. the Rays.
—Field Level Media