<
>

Kershaw rises to the occasion, such as it was

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- What happens in spring training stays in spring training. Not that it's all that salacious or interesting. Just that it will mean absolutely squat once teams pack up and leave here in a few weeks, and that no one will remember any of it anyway. We know this because we have the ability to reason and think logically.

Still, there is a small part of us, the fan in us, that wants to make more out of what happened in the first three innings of the Los Angeles Dodgers' Cactus League game on Friday, a 9-0 victory over the Texas Rangers before 6,221 at Surprise Stadium.

Clayton Kershaw, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, made what was officially his first start of the spring -- unofficially, it was his second -- against what essentially was the everyday lineup for the Rangers, the two-time defending American League champions and one of the best offensive teams in the game.

And Kershaw basically had his way.

In becoming the first Dodgers pitcher to go three innings, Kershaw shut out the Rangers on three hits with one walk and didn't allow a runner past second base. He also made a beautiful stab of a comeback liner by Adrian Beltre, catching it an inch off the ground, and picked Nelson Cruz off first base with his characteristically deceptive move.

It might not have meant much in the proverbial grand scheme. But to the paying customers, for whom spring-training baseball is mostly a potluck venture, it was like hitting the jackpot.

"With the exception of (catcher Mike) Napoli, they had everybody in there,'' Kershaw said. "It's always good to start out against one of the best teams.''

What actually did matter was that Kershaw, who had gotten his spring started by pitching in an intrasquad game five days earlier to properly align himself for his opening-day assignment, worked mostly on fastball command, mixed in a few curveballs and sliders and wasn't happy at all with his on-again, off-again, work-in-progress changeup, although he went to the bullpen afterward and threw a few more of those and came away somewhat satisfied.

But what was more interesting was the stuff that didn't matter. Because even as the Dodgers blew the game open early on big hits by Matt Kemp, who hit his first home run of the spring, and Andre Ethier, who went 2-for-2 with a double and is hitting .625, this was great theater, at least until Kershaw departed.

Not that any of the grizzled baseball lifers could appreciate it.

"I just think spring training, especially for a club like (the Rangers), is more about getting ready,'' Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Hopefully, we will get to that point one day, where we come to spring training after being in the World Series a couple of years in a row. I bet they turned it up a little bit, knowing it was Kersh. I guarantee you a few of them got their game on. But that being said, he is going to be good against everyone, for the most part, if he throws the ball where he wants to. He is a handful.''

And, even in the second week of March, he was worth the price of admission.