LOS ANGELES -- The Cardinals came into Saturday’s game with a .321 batting average against left-handed pitchers, the best mark in the Majors. Even during an underachieving start, the Cardinals have feasted on southpaws.
But Clayton Kershaw isn’t just any other left-hander. He will likely find his way into the Hall of Fame when eligible following his retirement. His No. 22 jersey will hang at Dodger Stadium shortly after that.
Kershaw showed that once again on Saturday, striking out nine and tossing seven scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ 1-0 win over the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.
“I’ve said it before this year, but tonight was his best night, as far as stuff, from start to finish,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “Just the way he tunneled tonight was exceptional. And that’s as good of a team you’re going to see versus [left-handers], and the way he dominated those guys was pretty impressive.”
From the beginning, it was obvious Kershaw had his best stuff. He retired the first 13 batters he faced, striking out five. For a while, it appeared Kershaw was on his way to another deep perfect-game bid, something he flirted with twice last season.
That bid came to an end in the fifth inning after Dylan Carlson’s one-out single, but that was just one of two hits the Cardinals were able to get off Kershaw through seven dominant innings.
“The fastball command was better and then my slider, especially the first four innings, was really good,” Kershaw said. “It’s a tough lineup. [Paul] Goldschmidt and [Nolan] Arenado are two of the toughest at-bats that I have in the game.”
Kershaw’s four-seam fastball had a little extra velocity early in the game, often touching 92-93 mph. His signature curveball was sharp for a third consecutive start, and Kershaw’s wipeout slider kept the St. Louis offense off-balance all night. Kershaw got 11 swings and misses on the slider, a season high.
“That was the best I’ve seen his slider in a long time,” said catcher Austin Barnes, who has caught most of Kershaw’s starts over the past few seasons. “I thought he had a good plan, was attacking those guys, doing what he does. When he gets ahead, he’s really good.”
Kershaw’s outing came to an end after seven innings and just 88 pitches. The left-hander said he could’ve kept going into the eighth inning. After all, 68 of his 88 pitches were for strikes and Kershaw had retired six of the last seven batters he had faced.
But Roberts said the team will continue to be mindful of his workload and felt strongly about going with Evan Phillips and Brusdar Graterol against a right-handed-heavy lineup. Phillips got out of some trouble in the eighth and Graterol recorded the save in the ninth.
“The stuff started to tick down a little bit,” Roberts said. “The last few starts we’ve ridden him. There’s a long way to go. Regardless of the outcome, it was the right decision.”
The Dodgers have certainly been asking Kershaw to be the staff ace early in the season and the left-hander has delivered time and time again. With the win, Kershaw improved to 5-1 and his 1.89 ERA is the eighth lowest in the Majors. His 0.76 WHIP is tied with Jacob deGrom for the second lowest.
But most importantly, Kershaw leads the National League with 38 innings pitched, and pilling up innings is something he takes pride in doing every fifth day. And in order for the Dodgers to accomplish their goals this season, Kershaw will have to keep posting strong numbers. Even at age 35, there’s no reason to doubt that the three-time Cy Young Award winner will do just that.
“Kershaw did a really nice job,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol. “Obviously, he’s done a nice job for a long time, and he was on his game. Located the fastball, the slider was on, landed some curveballs, kept us off-balance. He did a really nice job.”