Tonights’ (yawn) Lineup:
- Furcal, SS
- Hudson, 2B
- Manny, LF
- Ethier, RF
- Blake, 3B
- Loney, 1B
- Martin, C
- Kemp, CF
- Kershaw, P
David Ely of MLB.com wrote this about Clayton Kershaw:
Dodgers manager Joe Torre said that the key for Kershaw of late has been that, “the changeup has been a better pitch for him.”
Getting that pitch to hit the strike zone on a consistent basis frees up Kershaw’s fastball and a curveball that Torre calls Koufax-like. Plus the changeup adds another dimension to a pitcher who last season would just try to power through all of his problems on the diamond.
“That’s been a big part of it for me,” Kershaw said. “Last year when I got into trouble I wanted to throw hard, hard and harder, and just get out of the inning. I’ve kind of found out that when I do get into trouble, that when I do have people on base, sometimes the best thing is to throw a little bit more off-speed, back off a little bit.”
That evolved mindset is all a part of the maturation process that every young pitcher endures in order to be successful in the Majors.
Part of that process is as simple as just gaining more time on the mound. Each start offers a new challenge and a new opportunity to learn how to attack big league hitters.
And the more a pitcher goes out and does it with success, the more confidence he has the next time he takes the mound.
“He’s been throwing really well lately,” fellow starter Chad Billingsley said. “It seems like he’s coming along great.”
“He’s only allowed like three runs in his past seven starts. He’s throwing well.”
And as Kershaw takes an expected path toward a spot among the elite pitchers in baseball, there’s another thing that Torre brings up when talking about his young hurler: pitching to contact.
Torre describes it as taking “your foot off the accelerator” and to try “to get people to swing at stuff.”
Catcher Russell Martin said that, “It’s not trying to just blow by people all the time.”
But bring up the term to Kershaw, and he reacts as if one just uttered baseball blasphemy.
“Yeah, I don’t like that phrase,” Kershaw said. “I’m not trying to let them hit it, obviously. I’m not trying to strike everybody out. All I really try to do is whatever hitter gets in there, I just try to get him out in as few pitches as possible.
“A line drive to the warning track on one pitch, I’ll take that over a strikeout any day.”
Efficiency on the mound is something that the Dodgers hope to see more of as the season progresses. Too many of Kershaw’s outings have ended early because of long innings plagued by walked batters. The current stretch of seven starts with only three combined runs allowed, also features 21 total walks — averaging three per game.
Because of the Dodgers’ hesitancy to let him run up his pitch count (112 on May 17 is his season-high), those walks keep Kershaw from consistently lasting deep into games.
Not that Torre is lamenting about lost innings. He’s content with staying the course with Kershaw to make sure that his arm isn’t burnt out come postseason play.
“We still have to keep in mind whatever we save now is going to help us in October if we’re lucky enough to get there,” Torre said. “I think last year he threw about 170-something innings. Sure, we want him to increase that, but we don’t want him to increase it by a great deal at this point.”
And the Dodgers have good cause to protect Kershaw’s left arm, considering how delicately it’s intertwined into the Dodgers’ World Series hopes.
After all, this is a player deemed untouchable in trade discussions for Toronto ace Roy Halladay.
Acquiring Halladay would give Los Angeles the type of front-line starter that could lead a team to the World Series. But the prospect of losing Kershaw appears to be too much for the Dodgers.
“It’s a compliment,” said Kershaw about the trade rumors. “I’m glad that another team wants me to begin with, and I’m glad this team cares enough about me to protect me.”