In his final tuneup to start a National League Division Series game yet to be announced, Kershaw looked about as ready as he can be, pitching the Dodgers to a 1-0 win over the Padres for a series sweep and a five-game win streak.
May, the 22-year-old rookie, made his most compelling argument yet for a postseason role. Pitching in back-to-back games for the first time in his career, he again struck out two in another flawless inning. The Dodgers used 14 of their 17 active pitchers in the series, and May was the most dominant.
Kershaw no longer possesses the dominance of his three NL Cy Young Award-winning seasons, but he’s competitive with enough weapons still to fire six scoreless innings, striking out seven, allowing only two hits and retiring 13 straight at one point.
Kershaw is 16-5 with a 3.05 ERA, despite starting the season “touch and go” when he missed the first three weeks with a sore shoulder. In his last 19 starts against the Padres, he is 13-0 and the Dodgers have won 18 of those starts. Kershaw is 21-6 in his career against San Diego and hasn’t lost to the Friars since 2013.
But coming into this start having gone 3-3 with a 5.24 ERA and 13 home runs in six previous starts, this was more than just a workout for the left-hander.
“You’re just building confidence,” said Kershaw. “No matter how long you play this game, you struggle and your confidence will go here and there at times. Today, just went in with the mindset to be super aggressive and keep going and don’t worry about all the stuff that’s happened. The results are better today, for sure.
“If I had pitched bad today, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it wouldn’t have been fun going into the postseason knowing I had struggled. It’s definitely good to get some momentum and confidence going and realize the pitches I need to make are still in there. It was good, for sure.”
Although Kershaw’s Thursday start will be followed by Walker Buehler on Friday and Hyun-Jin Ryu on Saturday, there’s time to rearrange that order. It’s conceivable for Kershaw to be held back to start NLDS Game 3 on the road, utilizing Buehler’s overpowering stuff in Games 1 (next Thursday) and (if needed) 5, while making sure Ryu pitches Game 2 at home, where he’s lights out.
In that scenario, Kershaw could stay on schedule by pitching a simulated game during a Tuesday workout. It’s all speculation, as manager Dave Roberts insists the rotation won’t be decided until there are “conversations” with all three starters. Kershaw sounds prepared for any outcome.
“However they set up the rotation going forward, I just kind of work backward from there,” said Kershaw. “Game 1, 2, 3, whatever game I’m pitching, work backward and go.”
At least Kershaw knows what he’ll be doing, if not when. May’s immediate future, as well as that of fellow rookie Tony Gonsolin, is part of a numbers game that could be influenced by the uncertain health of Joe Kelly. Gonsolin, who relieved in the Minor Leagues before becoming a starter, is viewed more as a long reliever, comparable to Ross Stripling.
But May, a starter in his brief career, has been used most recently for shorter bursts in higher-leverage situations. And he’s looked pretty good, even on back-to-back days, with seven consecutive scoreless appearances.
“He’s shown a lot,” said Roberts. “Everything has to be earned. The way he’s commanding the baseball. When he needs to throw a strike, he does that. Just his presence on the mound, he’s owning it. Means a lot for a young player. This is his postseason right now. It’s an audition. When you see the life to the fastball, it’s very telling.”
May conducting his postgame interview while dressing as the clown from “IT,” “Pennywise,” for the team costume flight to San Francisco, said he hopes he’s made a strong case for an October role.
“I’m giving them a look at what the possibility can be,” said May. “To do back to back is pretty cool.”
May has impressed opposing hitters, like San Diego’s Hunter Renfroe.
“It's 99 with movement. It gets on you, too,” said Renfroe. “He has a quick arm. Could it play in a bullpen postseason role? No doubt. Anyone that can throw 100 can get a job somewhere. For sure in that bullpen, he could be a guy where if they get in trouble in the fifth or the sixth, you can throw him in there for two innings and not worry about it. He's got the stuff to fit that role pretty well."