LOS ANGELES – As Clayton Kershaw prepares here to make a start a day earlier than expected, as Garrett Richards lay in the Fenway Park dirt with his head propped on his own red glove, as Zack Greinke explains what may or may not be wrong with his elbow, as a bullpen gathers itself for a long night in Boston and a team braces for what now could be a long September …
It's Wednesday afternoon here. Kershaw is running through his routine, the one he uses the day before a start. Except he's not scheduled to pitch until Friday.
"No comment," he says with a grin.
It's Wednesday evening in Boston. Richards runs from the pitcher's mound to cover first base, stumbles and collapses, screaming as he grips his left knee.
At about the same time, Greinke shrugs and says, "I can't predict how I'll feel when I do pitch. I feel good enough to pitch, that's for sure."
Except Kershaw will take Greinke's place on Thursday for the Los Angeles Dodgers on regular rest, and Greinke has been pushed back to Saturday (and seven days rest) because his right elbow has been sore, and these are the moments that change the course of a baseball season. The Dodgers take MRIs and hold them up against past MRIs, and they ask Greinke to explain exactly what he's feeling, and they have him throw for a few minutes in the outfield. Then they decide to rest Greinke another couple days.
"Like a lot of players," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said, "Zack knows Zack better than anybody. Him more than most."
Richards, the Los Angeles Angels' ace in deed if not yet stature, was diagnosed with a patellar injury, which is about all the team would know until later, but no one was predicting a brisk recovery. He'd gasped for breath and reached out for Albert Pujols' hand. He'd been strapped to a stretcher, patted by Pujols on the tummy, and wheeled down the right-field line. In 26 starts he'd won 13 and lost four and posted a 2.61 ERA, the sort of break-through season the pitching-shallow Angels would need to push the Oakland A's, which they have. In the game's aftermath, Angels manager Mike Scioscia would call Richards' injury "significant." For Richards, of course. For the Angels, as well. He was scheduled to return to Orange County on Thursday morning for further diagnosis.
The Dodgers have two starting pitchers on the disabled list – Hyun-Jin Ryu and Josh Beckett. Another, Paul Maholm, was being counted on for depth. He's on the disabled list. The back end of the rotation technically is going three deep anymore, with mid-summer acquisitions Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia, along with the struggling Dan Haren. That, for the time being, is how they'll try to hold off the San Francisco Giants, who have their own problems.
The Angels have lost Tyler Skaggs to Tommy John surgery. Now, for as long as it takes, and with no concrete information yet on how long they'll be without Richards, they soldier on with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Hector Santiago, Matt Shoemaker and, well, someone else.
This is what baseball looks like. Not just here. Decent baseball teams hope first to field effective pitching staffs, end to end, and then hope to somehow keep them upright to the end of September and into October. Against the squall of blown elbows and pitch counts and innings limits, the season gets long and the pitchers seemingly more fragile. So Justin Verlander has a sore shoulder in Detroit, Matt Cain has chips taken from his elbow in San Francisco, Matt Garza has oblique issues in Milwaukee, Charlie Morton has a sports hernia in Pittsburgh, Masahiro Tanaka has a partially torn elbow ligament in New York, and everybody has something, it just seems especially cruel when September is so close.
With that, Greinke, who has never been on the disabled list with an arm injury, tried to explain the unexplainable.
"I guess I don't really have a percentage or a level of concern I could describe," he said. "I don't know. Kind of varies. I don't want to get too detailed into my medical reports or history or anything like that. It comes and goes. Hopefully it'll get better.
"Just like when you go on a run, you're right foot might be a little sore when you run. You still run as good as you could if your foot wasn't sore. I expect to be able to pitch at a 100-percent level. But I don't expect to feel 100 percent."
Sometimes the ledge is that narrow. It's all that fragile.
"More than likely if something happens it shouldn't be anything serious," he said. "There's different levels of seriousness, but it shouldn't be something to where I'd miss an extended period of time if something did happen."
A crisis appears to be averted in L.A., just as another arises in Boston. The rest? Greinke knows only his own arm, but he might as well have spoken for all of them.
"I can't predict the future really," he said.
More MLB coverage: