For more than a decade, the Dodgers have leaned on Clayton Kershaw when they needed a strong start. More often than not, the future Hall of Famer has delivered. Tuesday was one of the rare times when Kershaw fell short.
Kershaw struggled in the Dodgers’ 7-1 loss in Game 1 of Tuesday’s split doubleheader against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, allowing four runs in the first inning. Because he needed a career-high 39 first-inning pitches, his outing ended after just one frame for the first time in his career. His previous low in innings for a start was 1 1/3 on May 4, 2010 against the Brewers.
It was just the second time in Kershaw's career that he allowed four or more runs in the first inning. The other was on Aug. 28, 2008, against the Nationals. Kershaw and manager Dave Roberts had a lengthy conversation after the first inning, but the Dodgers went with right-hander Dennis Santana in the second.
“It’s embarrassing. No excuses. That was horrible. I put our team in a really bad spot in the doubleheader,” Kershaw said. “Thankfully, the 'pen stepped up and ate some innings for me. Just chalk it up to a really bad start and get ready for the next one.”
The outing began with a three-pitch strikeout against Willson Contreras, but that’s about where the positives ended for Kershaw. Kris Bryant laced a double down the left-field line and was later brought home by Anthony Rizzo’s RBI single. Kershaw recorded seven swings and misses, but the left-hander wasn’t consistent enough in the strike zone. He came into Tuesday’s start with five walks on the season, but handed out two free passes in the loss.
“I could overanalyze it and try and think about it, but I have no idea. Everything was bad,” Kershaw said. “I’m not going to try and analyze it too much. Just hope this one was an outlier and get ready for the next one.”
Kershaw also did not get any help from his defense, as Corey Seager couldn’t field a Matt Duffy grounder in the hole. If Seager made the play, the Dodgers had a chance to turn an inning-ending double play and limit the damage to one run. Instead, Duffy singled and David Bote followed with a bases-clearing double.
The Dodgers had two errors in Game 1 and haven’t played up to their standards defensively this season, particularly Seager at short, who has been unable to make a couple of close plays this season. The defensive lapses have been frustrating for L.A.
“It does bother me, because that’s something we should be able to bank [on] with our guys,” Roberts said. “Very uncharacteristic, but we’ve seen it this year and it just has to get better.”
Offensively, Keibert Ruiz delivered the only run, a pinch-hit solo homer off Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks in the seventh. It’s the third time in the past five games that the Dodgers' offense was held to one run.
With Dustin May out for the season and Tony Gonsolin and David Price still on the injured list, the Dodgers are shorthanded with their rotation and will rely on the top four starters to provide valuable innings over the next couple of weeks. Kershaw was unable to provide length in Game 1, and the Dodgers had to burn Jimmy Nelson, Alex Vesia and Santana out of the bullpen.
Kershaw could start on short rest over the weekend, given the fact that he only threw 39 pitches on Tuesday. In the meantime, the Dodgers turned to Trevor Bauer in Game 2 to try and save the rest of the ‘pen for Wednesday’s series finale.
“The vibe [in the clubhouse] hasn’t changed at all,” said Dodgers infielder Gavin Lux. “We’re a really good team, we know that. Obviously we didn’t play great, but going into the next game, we’re feeling fine. There’s no worries.”