When the Dodgers went quiet at the trade deadline, they did so with the expectation that their dynamic pitching staff would be healthy for the final two months of the season.
On the first day of September, however, they still have as many questions as answers when it comes to health on the mound.
On Thursday, they repeated a familiar streak, getting both good and bad news on several key strands.
The good: Clayton Kershaw shined in his return from a back injury, pitching five strong innings before the Dodgers blew a lead and lost to the New York Mets 5-3 at Citi Field.
The loss sealed the Dodgers’ first straight loss in more than a month and came at the hands of perhaps their biggest rivals in the National League race.
The most worrying developments took place before the first matchday.
For the second time in the last two months, reliever Brusdar Graterol was placed on the injured list, this time with what the team said was right elbow inflammation.
Then, during his afternoon game, manager Dave Roberts said that injured starter Tony Gonsolin’s strained right forearm “just hasn’t progressed” as quickly as he had originally hoped, and that the pitcher will undergo an MRI on Friday.
“Right now, right now,” Roberts admitted, “yeah, we’re a little more explosive than we expected.”
During the final five weeks of the regular season, there may not be a more important storyline for the Dodgers than the evolving health of their pitching staff.
Already at the deadline, they’ve got back Dustin May and Kershaw, who gave up one run over five innings in the series finale, but lost Walker Buehler to Tommy John surgery and now await more information on Gonsolin.
Graterol will also join Gonsolin in the MRI tube Friday so the team can learn more about an elbow problem the right-hander said appeared in his most recent outing Sunday.
“There’s moderate concern,” Roberts said of Graterol, who missed time in August with a shoulder injury. “He’s obviously a strong, physical guy, but to have him in and out, healthy and not healthy, it’s a bit of a concern.”
While Blake Treinen is expected to be activated for the team’s series opener against the San Diego Padres on Friday, marking his return from a shoulder injury that kept him out in April, the Dodgers are still waiting for four other injured to return in the middle. -through late September: Yency Almonte (who felt good after a bullpen session Wednesday), plus Danny Duffy, Tommy Kahnle and Victor González (who are all out for rehab work).
“There’s been a lot of inconsistencies in terms of the pitch side, the mixing and matching of the pen, the starters in and out, and the hitters have done a really good job of setting up,” Roberts said. “It was different, but we found a way to make it work.”
Kershaw provided some needed stability Thursday.
He drew three walks in the first inning, including a bases-loaded walk to open the scoring, before shaking off the rust and retiring the final 13 batters of the day.
In a 74-pitch outing, he struck out six, allowed just two other balls to leave the infield and lowered his season ERA to 2.59.
“He just needed one inning,” said Kershaw, who hadn’t pitched since suffering his second back injury of the season on Aug. 4. And then I was able to try to make some adjustments, figure things out.”
After Kershaw left, however, the Dodgers (90-40) let the 2-1 lead they had built on Chris Taylor’s two-run second-inning single slip away.
Sloppy defense and erratic relief pitching fueled a pair of two-run rallies for the Mets (84-48) in the sixth and seventh innings, with second baseman Gavin Lux playing the ball too late in the sixth before miscommunication with Mookie Betts on a emerge in the seventh.
“Clearly, to me, we beat ourselves,” Roberts said. “This whole road trip, I don’t think we played well defensively. … They played better baseball throughout the series.”
Roberts was optimistic about one thing Thursday, optimistic Kershaw would hold up for the stretch run despite the pitcher’s long history of back ailments.
“We were chalking it up,” Roberts said. We just feel like that will be enough to get him through the season strong and healthy.
The Dodgers better hope so.
Nearly a month removed from the trade deadline, they still aren’t as healthy on the mound as they thought they would be.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.