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Backed by fellow MVPs, Kershaw aces debut

@kengurnick
August 2, 2020

Breaking news from Dave Roberts after watching Clayton Kershaw’s dazzling 2020 debut, and it won’t be well received by the rest of baseball. “We’re finally hitting our stride,” the Dodgers’ manager said after watching the three-time Cy Young and former MVP fire 5 2/3 scoreless innings with six strikeouts and

Breaking news from Dave Roberts after watching Clayton Kershaw’s dazzling 2020 debut, and it won’t be well received by the rest of baseball.

“We’re finally hitting our stride,” the Dodgers’ manager said after watching the three-time Cy Young and former MVP fire 5 2/3 scoreless innings with six strikeouts and no walks in a 3-0 win over the D-backs. Ten games into the season and the Dodgers are playing .700 ball -- and they have their ace back.

Box score

Along with home runs from fellow former MVPs Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts, it wasn’t only Kershaw’s return from the injured list and a stiff back that gave the Dodgers a lift, but the way he did it.

He flashed the increased velocity he showed during Spring Training, the fastball sitting at 92-93 mph in the payoff for reshaping his training regimen and pitch sequencing, which included a visit to Driveline analytics in Washington.

“I’ve done a lot of different things,” Kershaw said. “Gotten a lot of help from the training staff, strengthening and conditioning staff, working out, doing different things arm care-wise. There’s a lot of things, just threw everything at it and see what came out. I think the biggest thing is being healthy and feeling really good and moving well and just thankful for the arm feeling so good as it did today.”

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Kershaw allowed three singles, made 81 pitches and escaped his only real jam by striking out Kole Calhoun with runners on second and third with two out in the fourth inning.

“Stuff-wise, I kind of had an idea it might be playing up a bit compared to last year, but that’s what I expect it to be,” he said. “And I expect the execution to be where it was, to get the ball to both sides of the plate. That’s what it should look like. I’m glad it was.”

When he came off the mound after being removed with two outs in the sixth inning, the typical on-field intensity on Kershaw’s face was replaced by a very uncharacteristic smile.

“There are guys in the front row clapping, so, I didn’t know what to do, seeing [Ross Stripling] and Walker [Buehler] there, it’s pretty weird,” he said. “There’s a lot of things involved. First time pitching in eight or nine months in a game that actually matters. I think there was some relief, gratefulness to be back out there again, relieved to get the first one behind you.”

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In addition to the uptick in velocity, which Roberts says provides Kershaw more margin for error, the ace demonstrated command and movement of the slider and curve, leaving Arizona batters unable to sit on any one pitch.

“It was really good having him back,” said Roberts. “He kept those guys guessing, missing the barrel. Today, his command was so good, he didn’t miss out over with the fastball. The slider was sharp and down below. Today, he could have pitched at 90 [mph] with that command.”

Kershaw was a scratch from his Opening Day assignment after his back tightened up during a weight room workout. Although he’s had three previous injury stints with back issues, he convinced management this was quickly healed with an impressive Thursday bullpen session.

“It was hard to miss Opening Day, obviously,” said Kershaw. “I was a little -- I don’t think worried, but I didn’t know how long it would take for my back to get better. But it bounced back pretty quick. Just thankful to get back out there today. I felt good. It was awesome just to be back out there and get a win.”

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.