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Kershaw eager for bigger October role

Kershaw eager for bigger October role

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PITTSBURGH -- Clayton Kershaw calls his collision with the fence at Dodger Stadium "dumb," but more than that he'd rather not talk about the separated (non-throwing) shoulder he suffered.

It knocked the 21-year-old left-hander out of the Dodgers' rotation for three weeks and off a Major League mound until Tuesday night, when four strikeouts in two innings of relief convinced manager Joe Torre that Kershaw was ready for a Sunday return to the rotation in Pittsburgh.

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Dodgers at a glance
2009 record: 95-67
2008 record: 84-78
NL West champs
NL best record
NLCS matchup:
Phillies at Dodgers
Postseason tix: Buy now

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Loney: Taking good swings
Kuo: Long road back
Thome: Back in Philly
Loney: Building resume
Bullpen: Led by Broxton
Torre: Rep precedes him
Blake: Chemistry guy
Kershaw: Game 1 nod?
Dodgers: Eyes on prize
Kemp: Path of the pros
Furcal: Back healthy
Kershaw: Like Koufax
Hudson: Keeping head up
Billingsley: Unknown role
Ethier: Slump over
Torre: Tough decisions
Kershaw: Elite comparisons
Kemp: Nearly elite
Kershaw: Path to the pros
Billingsley: Fate in balance
Ethier: Aims to improve
Torre: Back to playoffs
Kershaw: Ready to rock
Rotation: Plenty of options
Kemp: Chasing LA history
Bullpen: Dominant pair
Honeycutt: Pitching guru
Kemp: Tools to match talent
Ethier: Walk-off wonder
Billingsley: Vying for spot
Ethier/Kemp: Dynamic duo
Torre: Another pennant race
Pierre: Receives high praise
Kershaw: Beyond his years

Now Kershaw needs to extend that form for 70 pitches or so as he works his way back into shape for a postseason role.

"It's not fun being hurt," Kershaw said. "Not the place I wanted to be. But I can't dwell on it. It was a dumb thing to do, but you play the hand you're dealt. I feel bad for not being able to pitch and be part of the team. It happened and I had to deal with it."

Kershaw suffered the injury shagging fly balls in batting practice, slamming his right shoulder into the Plexiglas that protects the out-of-town scoreboard embedded in the right-field fence.

At the time, Kershaw had become one of the more dominant pitchers in the league. He's allowed four earned runs only once in his past 21 starts. When the Dodgers were scoring in June and July he reeled off five consecutive wins. He's been victimized more than any other Dodgers starter during the offense's second-half outage, going winless over his past nine starts (8-8 on the season), even though his ERA in that time actually lowered from 2.95 to 2.89, ninth in the league.

Kershaw said he can't pinpoint what turned his season around (he was 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA on June 10) and doesn't want to.

"I don't look back," he said. "I don't have to explain it. There's no point. If this season goes the way we want and we make a run at this thing, that's what I care about. Individually, I'm not worried about what I did.

"I don't like to look at things in a big picture. I've been blessed with the ability to perform and I don't take it for granted. But to look back two months ago and try to explain why I did that and why I'm doing this, two months ago seems like an eternity. I just take it day by day."

Kershaw said his focus has been to get healthy, so he can focus on his next assignment. After being limited to two innings of relief work in last year's playoffs, he envisions a greater role this October.

"I think I'm better prepared for the postseason than a year ago," he said. "Even though I didn't have a big role, just to be part of it for a couple of innings, it's amazing how much that helped me progress. I hope my role is a little different this time, a little bigger. For me, my role was not so huge. I flew under the radar. All the attention was not directed at me. Maybe this year will be different.

"I love being part of something. I want to be a big part of the team. I want to be that guy that they give the ball to. I think any pitcher would want that. I don't like to talk about it a lot. I'm not into talking. But I'm a pretty competitive guy. That's part of the reason being hurt was so tough, because I couldn't contribute."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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