Kershaw regains his mojo … or so we’re told

One of the first things they taught us in journalism school was that in our lives as professional reporters, we were going to be spun around to the point of dizziness, on a minute-by-minute, day-by-day basis by people trying desperately to control the message, and that we always had to be wise to the motivations behind whatever information a source might be feeding us at any given moment.

The trick, as I quickly found out once I left college and entered the real world of journalism, is to know when you’re NOT being spun — to not have your guard up so much that you completely whiff when someone is feeding you something that is completely on the mark and reliable. Sometimes, the information coming from the sources, no matter how suspicious or implausible it may sound, is the actual truth — or at least someone’s honest-to-goodness perception of it.

I’m going to make a judgement call tonight that what was emanating from the Dodgers clubhouse about Clayton Kershaw, from both the former National League Cy Young Award winner himself and his manager, Don Mattingly, was completely legit. Because in both cases, it came with an acknowledgement that Kershaw hadn’t been himself in his two previous starts, and at least in the case of Kershaw, that acknowledgement was a first.

And in both cases, it came with a heartfelt belief that after giving up a second home run to Reds right fielder Jay Bruce to begin the fourth inning — the first two homers Kershaw has given up to a left-handed hitter ALL YEAR — Kershaw suddenly seemed to find himself and, in the words of Mattingly, he “righted the ship.”

The numbers sort of back that up — emphasis on sort of.

Kershaw bounced back from Bruce’s second homer to retire 12 of the next 15 batters before handing the game off to the Dodgers bullpen, which eventually coughed up the game to stick the Dodgers (83-59) with their first four-game losing streak since they dropped their first eight games in the month of May.

If you were watching the first three innings tonight, you could be forgiven for thinking Kershaw looked completely discombobulated. He was doing all kinds of un-Kershaw-like things, starting with that first home run by Bruce and including walking opposing pitcher Homer Bailey with one out in the third after getting ahead 0-2, and then immediately giving up a single to Shin-Soo Choo and hitting Chris Heisey after getting ahead of both of them 0-2, and he would’ve given up a two-run single to Joey Votto after getting ahead of him 0-2 if first baseman Adrian Gonzalez wouldn’t have been positioned EXACTLY where Votto’s frozen-rope line drive was hit. There also was a questionable balk thrown in — Kershaw was still questioning it after the game — when he tried to pick Bailey off first with virtually the exact move he had used to pick Choo off in the first inning.

Kershaw then got out of that jam by getting Brandon Phillips to ground out, only to give up Bruce’s second homer to start the fourth.

From there, though, Kershaw began to look like himself. And himself is exactly what the Dodgers need him to be going forward. Oh sure, there is plenty of time. They playoffs are still more than three weeks away. But depending on how Mattingly lines up the rotation for the playoffs, Kershaw wouldn’t have had that much time to right himself if he hadn’t done so tonight.

The real test, of course, will be whether he can carry it into his next start, and the three remaining regular-season starts after that.

Here’s my best guess at what lies ahead for Kershaw leading up to the playoffs: he’ll start on Friday night against the Giants and then on Sept. 18 at Arizona. After that, it gets tricky for Mattingly, because the Dodgers are off on Sept. 23, and then there are THREE off-days between the end of the regular season and the start of the N.L. Division Series on Oct. 3. Kershaw probably would go on Sept. 24 in San Francisco and then make one final, abbreviated start (think three innings) on the final weekend. He could either make that abbreviated start on short rest on Sept. 28 against Colorado or make it on Sept. 29 against the Rockies and then start the playoff opener on short rest — or, if Mattingly decides to keep everything the way it is, he could start Zack Greinke in the opener and Kershaw in Game 2. But honestly, I can’t see that happening, even if Greinke is arguably the better pitcher right now.

Anyway, to summarize, I’m buying Mattingly’s and Kershaw’s assessments of Kershaw’s final four innings tonight — for now. But I’m doing so with a cautious eye. Granted, Kershaw has set a ridiculously high bar for himself, so that even after a performance like this one when he gives up two runs on four hits over seven innings, we are all poking around trying to figure out what’s wrong with him, even wondering if it might be something physical — although I think we can at least lay that notion to rest.

But I’m anxious to see what Kershaw delivers on Friday night. If it’s a continuation of the way he finished up tonight, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. If it isn’t, well, the Dodgers may have a problem, without a lot of time for fixing it.

9 comments

  1. I listened to the whole interview of Kersh you posted. He described himself as “stubborn” in that 2nd at bat to Bruce throwing the same pitch (iffy slider, even Mattingly said so) as in his 1st AB with the same result. Stubbornness won’t play in the playoffs. Gotta be smarter than that or your playoff run will have a very short shelf life.

  2. Great point. You never stop learning in this game. Sounds like he may have learned something there.

  3. While watching this series, I was reminded of the 1988 Dodgers and how they played against the New York Mets during their 11 games of the regular season that year. It wasn’t even close. The Dodgers lost 10 of those games and were outscored 49-18.

    So, given how well they played the Mets that year, when the Dodgers won their division and reached the NLCS, it was hard to imagine they’d reach the World Series, let alone win it. Remember, the Dodgers were down 0-2 to begin the NLCS and had to win four of the remaining five games to secure the NL pennant. That was a team which played every inning as if it were their last, and they did it against some great pitching.

    And that’s the point I’m making here; the Reds have some great pitching themselves. They threw their best three starters at the Dodgers and took away one-run decisions in all three games. A hit here or there and the Dodgers may have returned the favor and swept the Reds. Yeah, the Reds got the timely hits and Kersh made some bad pitches to Jay Bruce, but up to this point, I see no reason to suspect that the Dodgers are suddenly going to lose that swagger which carried them through the last three months. This is a team that knows where they are headed and they know they have business to take care of in order to get there. But the Dodgers are also keenly aware of the fact that this isn’t the postseason just yet. They know the Reds are fighting for a division title and that they caught the Reds in a hot streak. The Dodgers know the division is theirs; the magic number is simply a formality at this point.

    I’m not going to suggest the Dodgers have hit the cruise control button. Far from it. But this is a team with perspective, and they know what has to happen and they will be prepared when October arrives. Right now, it’s all about jockeying for position and setting up the pitching staff for the big push.

    One thing is for certain; the Dodgers have proven that they know how to win… and they will.

    • Terrific points. Many of my concerns would rendered moot by handling the D’Backs in the upcoming 7 games with them. 1988-awesome memories of an amazing journey. The work Orel put on his shoulder won the Dodgers the WS that year – and as evidenced by his injuries the following season cost him too. These Dodgers have way more pitching depth than the ’88 team and potentially other worldly offense too. For me it will come down to the Dodgers getting to the World Series this year, proving they can win in the playoffs against consistently equal or better competition. A hit here & there and key pitches mean a lot more in the playoffs than they mean right now that’s for sure.

  4. Excellent take, and you’re probably right on all points. This is still probably the most talented team in the league, and that can take you a long way in the postseason. One minor correction, though: Dodgers and Mets split the first two games of the ’88 LCS. Mets won Game 3 at home, then Dodgers won Games 4, 5 and 7.

    • Thanks for pointing that out Tony. My memory isn’t what it once was, huh? I guess I should’ve looked up the NLCS stats like I did their regular season stats. But hey, winning “four of the remaining five” sounds better than “three of the remaining four!”

  5. I thought CK was lights out after the second homer. He threw a couple of curves that were downright filthy and you could hear the collective gasps from the fans throughout Great American Ballpark. My greatest concern was the two hit batsmen which is totally uncharacteristic. The second one to load the bases, was particularly disturbing, but it sure woke him up and he did a great job to get out of it. On the line drive to AGon, I thought as slow afoot as Agon is that he could have doubled off the runner on first rather than going to second, but it turned out not to matter.

  6. Hey Tony, your best guess for starts leading up to the playoffs assumes Kershaw will be pitching every five days. But at the time of Volquez’s first start last year, most speculation was that the Dodgers would use a six-man rotation, at least until the first off-day, so all the starters could pitch on five days rest instead of the usual four. Is that no longer the operative assumption? (Regardless of whether it’s due to Capuano’s status – they could still use Fife as a starter if they decide that rest for the starters is an important enough priority.)

  7. That was never my assumption. Volquez was supposed to get one start with an extra day of rest for everybody. Only reason he’s starting again tomorrow night is Ryu and Capuano were both hurt. Ryu pitching Wednesday, Capuano still uncertain.