Clayton Kershaw is wholesome and dealing, including optimism to Dodgers’ October

By Rowan Kavner
FOX Sports activities MLB Author

Dealing with the Diamondbacks for the second time in lower than per week, struggling to place Christian Walker away within the midst of a relentless 12-pitch at-bat, Clayton Kershaw tried one thing on Monday evening that he hadn’t since 2020.

He threw a curveball on a three-ball depend.

Will Smith had referred to as for Public Enemy No. 1 on the pitch prior, however Kershaw shook his catcher off in favor of a slider. Kershaw has, in any case, posted a 2.39 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in his fifteenth main league season whereas firing solely four-seamers and sliders 83 p.c of the time. The left-hander’s reluctance to spin a curveball whereas behind within the depend is a mirrored image of his uncertainty about whether or not or not he can throw it for a strike.

However after Walker fouled his sixth straight pitch off, Kershaw knew it was time.

The component of shock neutralized the Arizona first baseman, who had given Kershaw bother previously. The curveball, looping 72.9 mph towards the underside of the zone, received Walker swinging for certainly one of Kershaw’s 10 strikeouts on the evening. It was the most recent gem in a string of them because the left-hander got here off the injured listing, providing additional optimism about Kershaw’s well being as October approaches.

“I do know he does not take without any consideration any begin,” supervisor Dave Roberts mentioned, “and that is what makes him nice.”

These late September video games might not make a lot of a distinction for a Dodger crew that has already clinched the division and a first-round bye within the postseason, however they matter for Kershaw as he tries to get proper for the playoffs after two journeys to the IL this season attributable to his troublesome again.

He was unavailable final postseason attributable to a flexor tendon damage, left to look at and ponder his future as Julio Urías, Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer shouldered a lot of the pitching load earlier than a Nationwide League Championship Collection exit. Kershaw didn’t decide up a baseball once more till January. He felt more healthy because the offseason — and MLB’s lockout — continued. As he thought-about whether or not to signal again with the Dodgers or together with his hometown Rangers, the considered one other October alternative pushed him again to Los Angeles for one more yr. He felt he might nonetheless be additive to a postseason run.

He’s demonstrating that now in his age 34 season. And with the playoffs on the horizon, he does not need to miss out once more.

“You need to be aside of it,” Kershaw mentioned. “That is why I got here again. That is why all people desires to be on this crew. It is a particular group, and we have an opportunity to do one thing particular.”

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As of Tuesday afternoon, the Dodgers are the one major-league crew whose beginning pitchers boast a sub-3.00 ERA as a gaggle. They’ve thrived regardless of a load of obstacles. Three-time Cy Younger Award winner Scherzer left in free company. Two-time All-Star and postseason star Buehler threw his final pitch of the yr on June 10. Tony Gonsolin, a Nationwide League Cy Younger Award contender, hasn’t pitched in a month as he tries to work his approach again from a forearm pressure in time to contribute within the postseason.

Each absence makes the presence, well being and manufacturing of veterans corresponding to Kershaw and Urías extra very important.

“Any time you lose an All-Star starter late within the season, it is regarding,” Roberts mentioned. “However you are relying on different guys to step up.”

If there have been any questions on how a virtually month-long layoff attributable to his newest again damage would possibly influence Kershaw’s second half and past, he has answered them together with his first 4 begins off the injured listing.

Kershaw is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 29 strikeouts and 4 walks in September. In his final two begins, each towards the Diamondbacks, Kershaw mixed to give up one run with 15 strikeouts and a stroll in 13 innings. He can be dealing with lineups deeper than Arizona’s as soon as the playoffs arrive, however the expertise of seeing a foe a number of instances in a brief interval is a take a look at he’ll see all through October.

I’ve handed the early September model with ease.

“The well being is there, the efficiency is there, the build-up is there,” Roberts mentioned. “Clearly the preparation, the mindset, all that stuff you possibly can financial institution on. We really feel good proper now.”

Primarily a two-pitch pitcher who sprinkles in a extremely efficient curveball when wanted, Kershaw’s technique does not fluctuate significantly by opponent. He’s masterful at what he does properly.

Six days after attacking the Diamondbacks with a gentle weight loss program of upper-zone fastballs and sliders on the sting, the plan Monday seemed to be a lot the identical. After getting 10 whiffs on his slider towards the Diamondbacks final week, he received 11 on the pitch this week towards the identical opponent.

“You do not need to overthink an excessive amount of,” Kershaw mentioned. “There’s solely so many issues I can do. I haven’t got too many methods up my sleeve, so attempt to simply execute your pitches as greatest you possibly can. However on the identical time, you do not need to be too predictable both .”

It’s what works for the left-hander, who has redefined himself whereas remaining among the many league’s elite pitchers regardless of not possessing the mid-90s velocity he displayed in his 20s. He nonetheless solely wants the fastball and slider to succeed, tunneling the 2 pitches to close perfection. They equipped 9 of his 10 strikeouts from him on Monday evening, serving to the Dodgers clinch a first-round bye within the course of.

However generally, ending a prolonged at-bat requires one thing extra, corresponding to a full-count curveball when it is least anticipated.

“You may’t give in,” Kershaw mentioned. “You may’t present that you just’re drained. You may’t make a mistake. You have simply received to maintain going.”

That can also be Kershaw’s plan as he builds up for the playoffs, on monitor proper now to contribute the best way he envisioned when he selected the Dodgers this offseason.

“Bodily, it feels nice,” Kershaw mentioned. “I am in a great spot. … Received a pair extra till October.”

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports activities. He beforehand was the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. Observe him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.

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