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Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw could return as early as next week

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers will head into the second half of the season with a full head of steam and some good news to go along with it.

Clayton Kershaw, who hasn't pitched since June 26 because of a mild disk herniation in his lower back, could be back on the mound as early as next week, or by the end of the month at the worst.

Manager Dave Roberts announced the timetable, the first one the Dodgers have given for their ace left-hander, before the team embarked for Arizona and the second-half opener in the desert Friday against the Diamondbacks.

"We're really encouraged," Roberts told reporters Thursday. "For Clayton, not a whole lot's left. He said he's feeling well."

Roberts had already revealed his rotation to start the second half, and it did not include Kershaw. Bud Norris was slated to pitch Friday, followed by Brandon McCarthy and Kenta Maeda. When the Dodgers travel to Washington, Scott Kazmir and Hyun-Jin Ryu will pitch in the first two games of that series against the Nationals.

Roberts was not ready to say whether the rotation will be the same five pitchers the next time through, suggesting Kershaw might be ready to come back. The left-hander has already thrown a light bullpen session and was playing catch with fellow injured pitcher Brett Anderson in the Dodger Stadium outfield on Thursday.

The Dodgers closed out the first half with a 7-3 homestand, winning the last three games before the break. Since Kershaw has been out of action, the Dodgers have rallied with a 10-4 record.

Getting Kershaw back into the mix only suggests better things for the 51-40 club that leads the National League wild-card race by 2 games.

The staff ace was 11-2 at the time of his injury with a dominating 1.79 ERA over his first 121 innings. Under the revealed timetable, he will have two months of starts for a Dodgers team that expects to have a number of players return in upcoming weeks.

Among other recovery news Roberts revealed Thursday was that Joc Pederson (bruised shoulder joint) is set to start a rehab assignment and is expected to return to the Dodgers on Tuesday at Washington. Anderson, who had his own back injury that required arthroscopic surgery, will pitch in a simulated game, then go on a minor league rehab assignment.

Starter Alex Wood (triceps) is also nearing his own rehab assignment, after throwing to hitters in practice in Arizona, while reliever Yimi Garcia (biceps) is also close to a rehab assignment.

Outfielder Andre Ethier, who has been out since spring training with a spiral fracture in his right leg, is scheduled for a bone scan. If that comes back clean, the Dodgers will put Ethier on a more aggressive recovery plan, Roberts said.

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