Vintage Kershaw re-emerges in win over A's

April 7th, 2021

In his Opening Day start against the Rockies, didn’t look like himself. His signature slider wasn’t breaking the way it normally does and his fastball didn’t have much life. The Rockies punished him for six runs (five earned) on 10 hits, both the most Kershaw has allowed in any of his nine Opening Day starts.

After a rough Spring Training that saw him post a 10.22 ERA in four starts and battle the same issues that popped up on Opening Day, there were plenty of reasons to be concerned with which Kershaw the Dodgers were going to get in 2021.

But in the Dodgers’ 5-1 win over the A’s on Tuesday night, the 33-year-old lefty helped alleviate some of those concerns in a big way, allowing just one run on four hits and striking out eight over seven strong innings.

It was vintage Kershaw -- and you could practically hear a collective sigh of relief across the greater Los Angeles area. With eight strikeouts on Tuesday, Kershaw now has 2,743 in his career in the regular season and postseason combined. He passed Don Sutton (2,739) for most all-time by a Dodgers pitcher. Sutton is still the franchise’s all-time regular-season strikeout leader with 2,696, but Kershaw is right behind with 2,536.

“I thought he had everything working,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “Just to see him get through seven innings, eight strikeouts and no walks, just a really stellar night.”

A few batters into the game, it looked like Kershaw could be in for another long night. Jed Lowrie and Ramón Laureano jumped on him with back-to-back doubles in the first inning, giving the A’s their first lead of the season. But Kershaw soldiered on, navigating his repertoire of pitches and finding a way to settle in.

He recorded three strikeouts in the first frame, throwing eight consecutive offspeed pitches to end the inning. Led by those offspeed pitches -- primarily his slider -- Kershaw continued his dominance throughout the night, at one point retiring 16 of 17 batters before allowing a seventh-inning double to Stephen Piscotty.

“It was better, for sure,” Kershaw said regarding his slider. “It’s always an emphasis. It’s important for me. Definitely, when you don’t pitch well, you work on everything and try and get better.”

Most of Kershaw’s success on Tuesday came from his ability to pair the slider with his fastball. That helped him get swings-and-misses, something he struggled with in his first start against Colorado. On Opening Day against the Rockies, Kershaw got just six swings-and-misses, tying the fewest he’s recorded in the last two seasons.

On Tuesday, he induced seven whiffs in the first inning alone. In total, Kershaw coaxed 21 swings-and-misses, the most in a regular-season game since Sept. 18, 2017, against the Brewers. Eleven of those whiffs came on the slider.

“He had a really good slider tonight,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “It’s late-breaking and just a couple miles off his fastball and it’s his best pitch here recently. He’s learned to do some things a little bit differently. But the slider is his go-to pitch and it’s just tough to recognize.”

While Kershaw was dominating on the mound, the Dodgers’ offense continued its early season tear at the plate. Despite a more concerted effort to give star players a few days off over the course of the first week, the Dodgers have recorded 10 or more hits in five of the first six games of the season. That high-octane approach has led them to their current five-game winning streak. Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor were unavailable due to injury, but Mookie Betts, Edwin Ríos and Max Muncy picked up the slack, each delivering his first homer of the season.

“Our team is unbelievable, just one through 26, our team is so good,” Kershaw said. “I’m glad I don’t have to face them.”

And after his performance on Tuesday, the Dodger hitters were probably glad to not have to face No. 22.

“Clayton Kershaw was Clayton Kershaw tonight,” Ríos said. “He looked unbelievable. It was just fun to be out there and obviously not get a ball hit to me. … He’s a stud.”