- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES – There aren’t many major league pitchers capable of striking out 12 batters in six innings and hearing that their manager thinks they’re “still searching for it.”
There aren’t many – or, actually, any -- other major league pitchers quite like Clayton Kershaw, of course, and the Los Angeles Dodgers ace admitted that Friday night was not quite smooth sailing as the Colorado Rockies were able to foul off enough of his pitches to get him out of the game well ahead of schedule in the Dodgers’ 7-3 win.
Kershaw didn’t reject the premise that Friday was his version of “laboring.” There are plenty of pitchers who would take 32 of those every year and see what kind of fortune their agent could spin out of it. Kershaw’s not that type.
“I went six [innings] and threw 100 pitches. I need to go eight and throw 100, so there’s some room for improvement, definitely,” Kershaw said.
In the interim, as Kershaw works on his slider and some of the other Dodgers pitchers work on their efficiency and a young bullpen gets settled and a new lineup tries to jell, there is some reassurance for this team in knowing that some things never change. Adrian Gonzalez will be ready to play every day and he will carry a game plan into the game.
“He has a really good idea of what that [pitcher] can and cannot do and he takes advantage of that,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
That’s all well and good. The Dodgers have known Gonzalez is among the most consistent, professional hitters in the game since before they traded for him three summers ago, but what he’s done in the first 10 games of 2015 is well beyond any of that. The Dodgers are averaging 6.2 runs per game during this five-game winning streak and, given the damage Gonzalez is doing to scoreboards, it’s a wonder they’re not averaging 12.2.
Gonzalez mashed a couple more RBI doubles Friday. He is batting .550 and, while it’s still, of course, ridiculously early, he’s making it tough on himself to have a down year. Assuming he matches last season’s at-bat total, he would have to hit .256 the rest of this season to have an average as low as the .276 he posted in 2014. That was the lowest batting average of his career over a full season.
And those aren’t the impressive numbers. Gonzalez is slugging 1.125. The next-closest major league hitter, Nelson Cruz, is slugging .816. Gonzalez’s OPS is 1.734. The next-closest major league batter, Joey Votto, has a 1.300 OPS. And he’s not the only Dodger swinging a hot bat. In fact, he wasn’t even the star of the night Friday. Howie Kendrick hit a long two-run home run and added an RBI double.
This Dodgers lineup is proving as deep as they were hoping it would so far.
“You see guys at 100 pitches in the fifth inning,” Kershaw said. “It’s fun to be a pitcher on this side, that’s for sure.”
And yet you get the impression it’s not going to be fun for Kershaw until he’s capable of doing it practically alone. On Friday, he struck out the side on 16 pitches in the second inning and was cruising until Troy Tulowitzki lined a 1-and-2 pitch into the left-field seats. There were other hard-hit balls. Willin Rosario lined one up the middle. Charlie Blackmon hit a two-run shot. You don’t see many left-handed hitters take those kinds of confident swings off Kershaw.
So, for now, he’s sitting back and watching Gonzalez carry the team in this early stage, but you don’t become the first pitcher to win an NL MVP award in almost 50 years by standing around and watching. You know he won't be happy until he's that guy again and it's usually only a matter of time with him.
Clayton Kershaw is getting lots of support this season for the Dodgers. Adrian Gonzalez and Howie Kendrick showed that in L.A.'s win over the Rockies.