Saturday, March 31, 2012
Kershaw struggles to the finish line
By Tony Jackson
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It might mean nothing, but the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner will leave spring training Sunday afternoon with a bad taste in his mouth.
Whether that carries over to Thursday, when Clayton Kershaw will take the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers' season opener at San Diego, remains to be seen. But the usually dominating left-hander was anything but in his final Cactus League start Saturday -- which the Dodgers won 9-3 over the Arizona Diamondbacks before a sellout crowd of 12,799, the largest in the two-year history of Talking Stick -- and he wasn't happy about afterward.
"It wasn't very good," Kershaw said. "I gave up runs, and I gave up hits. That usually makes for a bad outing."
Because it was his final spring-training tuneup, Kershaw's prescribed pitch count already was going to be tapered back regardless of the result. Manager Don Mattingly came to get him just after Kershaw struck out Paul Goldschmidt for the second out of the fourth inning, a point at which Kershaw had given up three earned runs and six hits, including a bomb of a two-run homer by Jason Kubel in the first inning.
Kershaw said he was missing his spots and that his slider, which he had struggled with in his previous start six days earlier, still wasn't quite right. But when asked if the slider was a concern now that the regular season is upon him, Kershaw said it isn't.
"It can't be," he said. "April 5 is coming up pretty fast. You have to be ready to go."
Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt says he continues to see good sliders from Kershaw intermittently, but that the inconsistency could be the result of Kershaw trying to force the pitch, especially in light desert air where breaking balls tend not to break as much and where simply getting a proper grip on the ball can be tough.
"But he isn't going to make that excuse, and I'm not going to make it for him," Honeycutt said. "As long as he is healthy, that is the main thing. [The slider] isn't something I'm worried about. He is going to continue to work on it until he feels comfortable with it."
Kershaw finished the spring with a 2.35 ERA that seems pretty impressive at first glance. But when you consider that five of the six runs he gave up were in his final two starts, when he gave up 12 hits over a total of 9 2/3 innings, it is somewhat attention-grabbing. Still, Kershaw said there isn't anything specific he will address in his final bullpen session of the spring Monday in Anaheim and that for the most part, he is where he needs to be.
"Physically, I feel 100 percent," he said. "I feel healthy and ready to go."
The decision on who gets the eighth and final bullpen spot -- the one that opened up when it was determined starter Ted Lilly will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list until the Dodgers need a fifth starter -- probably won't be made until Wednesday. But right-hander Josh Lindblom, who relieved Kershaw in the fourth inning and got Taylor Harbin to fly out to strand a runner, still appears to have the inside track if only because he has a spot on the 40-man roster.
Mattingly continues to insist that non-roster, minor league journeyman Scott Rice is still in the mix, and without him the Dodgers will have only one lefty in an eight-man bullpen. Rice's ERA for the spring also is a half-run better (3.86) than Lindblom's (4.36) after Rice pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings against the Diamondbacks.
But with the 40-man already full, and while one spot can easily be filled by placing reliever Ronald Belisario on the suspended list as he serves the 25-game timeout he still has to do when the season starts, the Dodgers may need that spot for non-roster infielder Josh Fields, the only player competing for a bench spot who would provide right-handed power off the bench. It is tough to see at this point how the club could clear another spot for Rice.
Still, with Fields now in a 1-for-15 swoon with six strikeouts, it is possible that utility infielder Justin Sellers gets that last bench spot, so the move with Belisario could clear a 40-man spot for Rice, especially since Lindblom still has minor league options.
But, Lindblom is something of a known commodity, having posted a 2.73 ERA in 27 big league appearances as a rookie last season.
"[Lindblom] has had a pretty good camp," Mattingly said. "I think he and Scotty have both had good camps. Both guys have been throwing the ball good."
And that is as definitive an answer as Mattingly is willing to give at this point.
Outfielder Trent Oeltjen, who had no realistic shot of making the opening-day roster anyway, was optioned to minor league camp after the game. ...
The Dodgers (14-12-4) will complete the Cactus League portion of their spring-training schedule Sunday against the Diamondbacks, this time at Camelback Ranch. Chad Billingsley will make his final start of the spring, an abbreviated one, before getting the ball for the second game of the season on Friday night in San Diego. ...
Infielder Adam Kennedy, who hasn't played since suffering a slight right-groin pull, did fine in a minor league intrasquad game on Saturday morning and appears to be on track to begin the season healthy. He could play in Sunday's game against the Diamondbacks.