Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw pitched a career-high 259 innings last… (Paul Sancya / Associated…)
PHOENIX — Clayton Kershaw could pitch in three of the Dodgers' first six regular-season games, as a season-opening trip to Australia has created some abnormalities in the team's schedule.
Kershaw could theoretically face the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia on March 22, start the domestic opener in San Diego on March 30 and pitch in the Dodgers' home opener April 4.
But Manager Don Mattingly sounded as if he opposed the idea, and not only because of how it would postpone the season debuts of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren.
"We've very mindful of Clayton and the number of innings he pitched last year, the short winter," Mattingly said. "We're not going to be cautious and baby him, but we have to make sure we pay attention to how many innings this guy's throwing."
Mattingly's comments happened to be made on a Sunday in which Hall of Fame member Sandy Koufax reported to camp. An advisor to owner Mark Walter, Koufax will work with the pitchers for the next week.
Koufax remains the standard by which left-handers, including Kershaw, are measured. But Koufax is also a cautionary tale; he retired at 30 because of arm problems.
Kershaw hasn't come anywhere near the 300-plus innings Koufax pitched in his best seasons, but his workload last season was significant by modern standards. Between the regular season and the playoffs, Kershaw pitched a career-high 259 innings, the most by a Dodger since Orel Hershiser's 3092/3 in 1988.
Kershaw said he will abide by whatever decisions his manager makes.
"I'll pitch whenever they tell me to," Kershaw said. "It won't bother me one way or the other. If they don't want me to pitch that's one thing. But as long as I get to pitch, I don't really care when or where."
For his part, Kershaw doesn't believe in the importance of raw innings counts.
"I've never been a big fan of monitoring innings," he said. "I think stressful innings is what you have to kind of monitor. You feel a lot different after 100 in five than you do after 100 in nine."
With the Dodgers playing into October and reporting to spring training about a week earlier than normal, Kershaw had a relatively short off-season. Mattingly wouldn't rule out the possibility of not starting Kershaw in the two-game series against the Diamondbacks in Australia.
"We look at all the options," Mattingly said.
In addition to Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Dodgers are preparing Ryu and Haren to pitch in Australia as insurance.
If Kershaw doesn't pitch against the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers will presumably start Greinke and Ryu in the two games. A start by the South Korean Ryu could raise the series' international profile.
Whatever the Dodgers do to preserve Kershaw's arm would be understandable, considering they signed the 25-year-old to a seven-year, $215-million contract over the off-season.
Kershaw understands his new deal comes with obligations on his side as well.
"I definitely understand people's expectations are raised," he said. "You definitely feel a responsibility to live up to the life of the contract. You don't ever want to feel like you're not worth it, like you're not living up to it. As far as that's concerned, there's a little bit of a difference. But as far as my mindset, I don't think anything can really change."
Kershaw pitched live batting practice Sunday for the first time this spring, throwing 25 pitches to minor league players.
He said he didn't feel any ill effects of his second Cy Young Award season in three years.
"I felt good toward the end of the season, which was great," he said. "I didn't feel tired or anything all the way through the postseason. Everything felt good. In the off-season, I take six weeks off from throwing, regardless. So I started throwing around December. My arm today felt great. I didn't feel sore or anything. Everything feels pretty good."