ATLANTA -- Clayton Kershaw can't throw a 96-mph fastball anymore, but he can hit them.Kershaw's two-out, two-run single in a three-run fourth inning was nearly as valuable as the 7 2/3 innings he pitched in the Dodgers' 4-1 win over the Braves on Friday night, with Alex Verdugo and Yasmani
ATLANTA -- Clayton Kershaw can't throw a 96-mph fastball anymore, but he can hit them.
Kershaw's two-out, two-run single in a three-run fourth inning was nearly as valuable as the 7 2/3 innings he pitched in the Dodgers' 4-1 win over the Braves on Friday night, with Alex Verdugo and Yasmani Grandal adding solo home runs.
This turned into a historic two-way performance for Kershaw, with a single and three walks at the plate and eight strikeouts on the mound. In the live-ball era, only Kershaw, Robin Roberts (1950) and Whitey Ford (1959) have pulled off that combination.
His batting prowess aside, the victory continued Kershaw's career dominance over the Braves (4-0), while improving this year's overall record to 4-5 and lowering his ERA to 2.52. And that's what mattered most to the Dodgers, an ace-like domination by the franchise's best pitcher since Sandy Koufax, with injuries to his biceps and back finally in the rear-view mirror.
Kenley Jansen inherited two runners from Kershaw in the eighth inning but got Freddie Freeman to fly out on the first pitch, then handled the ninth inning for his 30th save, the fifth consecutive season he's had at least that many.
"It's good to see Kersh be Kersh again," Jansen said.
"This is vintage Kershaw," said manager Dave Roberts. "This was as good as I remember him since last year. The off-balance swings, the depth of the slider, the velocity held. A very fun game to watch."
This was Kershaw's longest outing of the year and Roberts said, with Jansen rested, he didn't want Kershaw to face Freeman a fourth time at 101 pitches. Kershaw has 25 complete games in his career, with a high of six in his MVP season of 2014, but he had only one last year.
Kershaw tried to talk his way into continuing, but Roberts wouldn't have it.
"I'm not a dummy. I understand facing Freddie a fourth time through, maybe one of the best hitters in the game against the best closer, that's a good matchup," Kershaw said. "It's always nice to finish a game, but the next best thing is to give the ball straight to the Big Man. He looked good tonight, bailed me out of a jam with Freddie up and preserved that win. The goal is always a complete game. I know nowadays, use your bullpen as much as possible, third time through and all this stuff. But eventually you've got to reset somehow. You can't have your bullpen throwing three or four innings every night. Just not fair to them."
Unlike hard-throwing Atlanta starter Mike Foltynewicz, Kershaw now relies on spotting fastballs and sliders that vary by only a couple miles an hour. His fastball rarely reaches 93 mph anymore, but it still has life and he still gets outs.
And, sometimes, hits. After Grandal's 17th home run (and sixth this month) led off the fourth inning to break a 1-1 tie, Matt Kemp walked, Chris Taylor singled Kemp to third with one out, and Kershaw sprayed a 2-1 fastball inside third to score them.
"I was super late and got fortunate," said Kershaw. "Folty's throwing 100 mph, it seemed like. I just happened to stick my bat out there and got lucky. On the walks, it's not easy for relievers to face pitchers. They're not used to it."
The hit was Kershaw's fifth of the year and he has three RBIs, enough to lead the team's pitchers in both categories. His best offensive season was 2013, when he homered and had 10 RBIs.
Kershaw retired 15 of 16 batters from the second inning through the sixth, but opened the seventh with a single by Nick Markakis and hit Kurt Suzuki with a pitch. He struck out Johan Camargo then escaped when Ender Inciarte's line drive was turned into a double play by Taylor.
"I got bailed out right there," Kershaw said.
Since coming off the disabled list June 23, Kershaw is 3-1 with a 2.23 ERA.
"We've handled him with kid gloves since he came back from the disabled list, and I think we did the right thing, you can see the progression," Roberts said.
• The only pitchers to walk three times in a game since 1984 are Kershaw, Ty Blach last year and Aaron Cook in 2009. The last Dodger to do it was Braves announcer and Hall of Famer Don Sutton in 1976.
• Since the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, Kershaw's 1.43 ERA against them is the second-lowest among all pitchers with at least 60 innings. Only former Dodger Jim Brewer's is lower at 1.19, and he was a reliever.
HE SAID IT
"No matter what decision we make, it won't be performance-based. Alex has performed really well at the Triple-A level. He's a Major League player. But the way we're playing, with our depth, certain guys are the odd man out at times. I can't say enough about him." -- Roberts on Verdugo, who is likely to be optioned Saturday when Yasiel Puig is activated from the disabled list
Alex Wood starts Saturday against Max Fried in a 4:10 p.m. PT game. Wood allowed five of the first six Brewers batters to reach base in his last start, but he limited the damage to a pair of first-inning runs over six innings. He'll be amped as usual when he faces the team that traded him to the Dodgers.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.