Dominant Kershaw a warm blanket for tired 'pen

May 10th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- After Dave Roberts was forced to use seven relievers Tuesday following Noah Syndergaard’s injury-shortened start, the Dodgers pitching staff was in a tricky position for Wednesday’s series finale against the Brewers.

“We're going to have to have some certain guys step up to get through today,” Roberts said before Wednesday’s game.

Well, can we interest you in a future Hall of Famer?

In a pinch, there's no one the Dodgers would rather have on the bump than , and in the series finale, they couldn’t have drawn things up any better. Kershaw threw seven innings of one-run ball in Los Angeles’ 8-1 win at American Family Field, picking up eight strikeouts.

Roberts was asked if he could imagine a better starter to have on the mound for a situation like Wednesday.

“No, no,” he said after the win. “There's other guys that are just as talented around the league. But as far as a guy that can be as efficient too, that's what we needed. He wasn't stressed at all. … We couldn’t have had a better guy take the mound.”

The Dodgers weighed calling up a fresh reliever, but opted against it due to logistical challenges, including the quick turnaround between Tuesday night and Wednesday’s afternoon game. What’s more, Roberts said pregame that Brusdar Graterol, Victor Gonzalez and Shelby Miller -- all of whom pitched Tuesday -- would be unavailable Wednesday, and in an ideal world, he’d stay away from Evan Phillips.

Kershaw pitched efficiently to give the bullpen the depth it was hoping for, throwing only 92 pitches to get through seven frames and allowing just five hits and no walks. The first of his eight K's gave him sole possession of 21st place on MLB’s all-time strikeout list, passing Jim Bunning.

“I think there's not many more words you can really say about a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Freddie Freeman said. “When you need someone like that to step up, and he does it every single time, it's just a treat to watch. Being a fan of baseball, to get to watch that every five days, it's special. When you need him most, like after yesterday's bullpen day, he stepped up again.”

It was a bounce-back performance for Kershaw, who has been his typical stellar self for the Dodgers but was coming off his worst outing of the season. Last week against the Padres, he allowed four runs and eight hits while walking five.

Kershaw pointed to better fastball command this start versus the one in San Diego. He threw 44 four-seamers against the Padres, 20 for balls. On Wednesday, just seven of his 37 heaters were out of the zone.

While Tuesday’s bullpen game didn’t change his approach, Kershaw said he felt an added emphasis to pitch deep into his start.

“Thankfully,” he said, “I got through seven and the guys started to swing the bats really good in the middle innings, and I was able to make it hold up.”

That started with Freeman, who broke a scoreless tie with a solo home run in the fourth inning -- after the first 10 Dodgers hitters went down in order. Up next, Will Smith promptly made it back-to-back jacks.

Freeman, who entered the day hitting .265/.297/.500 with one homer and five RBIs through eight games in May, added a two-run single in the fifth to finish the afternoon 2-for-5.

“It’s good to get results, but I felt a little better at the plate,” Freeman said. “My body was moving toward the pitcher, not away from the pitcher today, so that was just nice. I still had a couple bad swings here and there, but progress was made a little bit today.”

With Wednesday’s win, the Dodgers secured their fifth series win over their last six. They’ve won four straight series, going 10-2 over that stretch, looking like a different team since sitting at .500 (13-13) just two weeks ago.

“I think the last couple of weeks is more of what we thought was gonna happen [this season],” Freeman said. “The first couple of weeks, just one good day hitting, one bad day hitting, just kind of trying to put it all together, and we've been putting it together the  last couple of weeks. Big road trip, two tough teams, and we were able to come out with two series wins. That’s huge for the Dodgers.”

Next up is a rematch with the Padres, this time in Los Angeles, after last weekend’s intense three-game set in San Diego. You can guess what kind of atmosphere to expect for that one.

“Probably the same that we had in San Diego, just at our field,” Freeman said with a chuckle.