LOS ANGELES -- If a lack of focus contributed to the Dodgers' recent hard times, as manager Dave Roberts suspects, there was no sign of it when the icon of intensity, Clayton Kershaw, was on the mound Sunday.
The Dodgers' ace struck out 12 without a walk over seven innings of one-run, two-hit ball, and his offense finally did its job behind him in a 7-2 win over the first-place D-backs. The win snapping a three-game losing streak and an 11-game regular-season skid against Arizona.
"It's huge having Kersh in times like this," said center fielder Chris Taylor, who homered, doubled and drove in three runs. "We've lost a few games in a row, and to be able to have the luxury of him going out there and stopping a streak, whatever the case may be, it seems like when we need a win, he's always the guy. He comes through for us."
That's what stoppers do. This was the 59th time Kershaw recorded double digits in strikeouts, the seventh time he had 12. It was Kershaw's 22nd career start with 10 or more strikeouts and no walks. That passes Roger Clemens for the third most ever. Randy Johnson is first with 36, followed by Curt Schilling with 27.
Through four starts this season, Kershaw is 1-2 with a 1.73 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 31 strikeouts and three walks across 26 innings.
"When Clayton takes the mound, there's a heightened focus," Roberts said. "He brings a lot, and his intensity when he takes the mound, our guys fed off that today."
Kershaw can set the tone better than any Dodgers player since at least Kirk Gibson, and he made it clear that he doesn't accept the club's recent poor results just because it's early in the season.
"The whole 'don't panic because it's too early" thing doesn't work if you're using that in the back of your mind for an excuse," Kershaw said. "'It's early, we'll figure it out,' doesn't really work, because you have to figure it out at some point. So for me, I really don't like that saying. There really has to be a sense of urgency out there every game. It is early, a lot of time to make up things. Standings, not so important, but the way we play is important and can't have any excuses about that."
The slider was Kershaw's out pitch against the D-backs, and he varied it with differing amounts of break and shape, while throwing fewer curveballs than his previous start. Kershaw indicated that's an adjustment prompted by this year's unusual scheduling that sees the Dodgers play the division-rival D-backs and Giants frequently early.
"You face a team four times within the first two months, you can't be predictable and you have to mix things up," Kershaw said. "I was fortunate to get through seven, and we needed a win today."
Kershaw followed three consecutive games in which the Dodgers' starting pitcher had allowed at least five runs and lasted no longer than five innings. The only run he allowed came on a seventh-inning home run by Paul Goldschmidt, his fourth in the last five games.
After scoring three runs in Kershaw's first three starts, the Dodgers scored four runs in the first three innings with disciplined at-bats against Arizona starter Zack Godley (six walks in four innings), two runs scoring on Yasiel Puig's bases-loaded single.
"When we start walking, that's the calling card of our offense," said Kershaw. "Great to see that today. That's what we did all last year. The starter had to grind through the whole lineup. Very rarely did you see the starter get through a game with a low pitch count. It was a good step today, for sure."
The end result for Kershaw was even more impressive, considering an Enrique Hernandez error on a spinning grounder to start the game resulted in a 25-pitch first inning. Hernandez was spelling the injured John Forsythe, who had been filling in for the injured Justin Turner.
"I threw too many pitches, and it seemed like I would have to fight uphill to get through seven or eight innings," Kershaw said. "So that [eight-pitch] second inning was big to get my pitch count down again. If you see your pitcher getting in a rhythm and getting some quick outs, it relaxes you and gets you confidence on the offensive side, I think."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Clutch Puig: The first sign it wasn't the D-backs' day came in the third inning, when Cody Bellinger hit a ground ball back at Godley, who deflected it to second base. Bellinger reached to load the bases for Puig.
The Dodgers put six runners on base but hadn't struck a ball squarely until Puig's two-run single to center with the bases loaded in the third inning off Godley. Those two runs doubled Puig's RBI total for the season.
The Dodgers are 12-3 when playing on Jackie Robinson Day, tied with St. Louis for the most wins.
HE SAID IT
"Godley was sort of in a groove early. But the walks by Austin Barnes and Chase Utley in the second inning changed the mojo for us." -- Roberts, on the Dodgers' offense
The Dodgers open a three-game series in San Diego on Monday with Hyun-Jin Ryu making the 7:10 p.m. start against Robbie Erlin. Ryu dominated the A's in his last start, allowing only one hit with eight strikeouts in six innings on Tuesday. It was a sharp rebound from his season debut, a start of just 3 2/3 innings at Arizona.