Kershaw accepts decision to start him in Gm. 2

October 5th, 2018

LOS ANGELES -- The news came via conference call. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt were on the other end of the line.
-- the three-time Cy Young Award winner and one of the best pitchers to ever wear a Dodgers uniform -- would not be starting Game 1 of the National League Division Series against Atlanta on Thursday night.
:: NLDS schedule and results ::
Kershaw asked why. Roberts and Honeycutt explained. Kershaw listened to the explanation. Did he agree with it?
"Good question," Kershaw said, pausing for effect, as he spoke with reporters for the first time since Los Angeles set its NLDS rotation. "It wasn't really an agree or disagree type thing, I guess. They had their reasons. I accepted them."
Because that's all he could do. But the implication from Kershaw was clear: He wanted Game 1. The last time anyone else was on the hill for the Dodgers' first postseason game, Kershaw was a 21-year-old coming off his first full season in 2009. (Randy Wolf started against the Cardinals, and Kershaw made his first playoff start the following day.)
On Monday, Roberts and Honeycutt met with president Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi. They settled on left-hander for Game 1, noting that Kershaw could benefit from an extra day of rest. Kershaw would still be available for a decisive Game 5 (though they haven't yet committed to him, saying only that the focus remains on Games 1-3.)
Kershaw wasn't scheduled to be at the ballpark until Tuesday, and the group decided they didn't want to wait to deliver the news. So Roberts and Honeycutt made the call.
"I wouldn't really consider it a gut punch," Kershaw said. "I don't really think of it like that. I think: I get to pitch in another playoff series for the sixth year in a row. I'm looking forward to it."

There are undertones to the decision that neither Roberts nor Kershaw addressed. Kershaw is coming off his worst season in maybe a decade. (He's created such lofty standards for himself that a 2.73 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in 161 1/3 innings qualifies as such.) The average velocity on Kershaw's fastball is 90.7 mph this year -- more than two ticks down from last season's mark and 3 1/2 from his career average.
And now he's pitching Game 2. If Kershaw is feeling any added motivation at being pushed back in the rotation, he wouldn't say so publicly.
"I don't really need to prove myself to anybody," Kershaw said. "I just want my teammates to want me out there."

Kershaw said he didn't feel extra rest would affect him, though he offered the caveat, "I'll let you know tomorrow." He also mused on the benefits of seeing the Braves lineup face a left-hander, one day before his start. For what it's worth, his numbers have been noticeably better on extra rest than on four days' rest this season.
But for all the tactical explanations the Dodgers offered, the man who delivered the news could certainly appreciate the human element to it.

"Clayton is this generation's best pitcher," Roberts said. "And so it is a sacrifice. Obviously it's a huge sacrifice for him. But to not let it influence his mind or psyche, that doesn't surprise me. … For Clayton, his focus is to pitch a playoff game and help us win."
Help them win -- Game 2, that is.

Closer question?
Given 's uncharacteristically up-and-down season, Roberts was asked whether it's possible he'd ride another reliever with a hot hand into the ninth inning in a save situation.
"That's hard to envision," Roberts said. "It's possible. But I think that Kenley is a guy that was a big part in getting us here at the back end of the game. And I expect him to perform well on this stage. So very unlikely. But I wouldn't say impossible."

Machado adjusting to life in L.A.
Manny Machado became a Dodger in late July. He'll be a free agent after the season. Given that the Dodgers are set with and as their long-term left side of the infield, there's a chance Machado's stay in Los Angeles won't last much longer than a couple of months.
Still, it's pretty clear Machado has taken to his new team and his new city.
"Once I put on that uniform, I'm Dodger blue," Machado said. "I play for the Dodgers, and I want to do everything possible to bring a championship to the city."

Machado is hitting .273/.338/.487 since joining the Dodgers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, a dip in performance from his four months with Baltimore but still excellent production. But he's well aware his tenure in Los Angeles is going to be judged primarily by his October performance.
"Once I came over here, I put my stats aside and it was just about winning ball games and trying to get here to this position," Machado said.