Kershaw moving in right direction with ramp-up

March 17th, 2023

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After a slower-than-normal start to the spring, the primary focus for heading into his second Cactus League start was building momentum in his ramp-up for the beginning of the season.

Kershaw threw 4 1/3 innings in the Dodgers’ 3-1 loss to the Rangers on Thursday, allowing five hits and two runs -- both coming on solo homers -- while striking out four and walking none. The left-hander considered it a step in the right direction.

“I think tonight was a slight improvement from the last one,” said Kershaw. “I felt like I had a few more good throws in there than I did last time, but there’s still some work to do. … Overall, I felt like I was moving pretty good -- just need to clean up a few of the smaller things right now.”

In the afternoon prior to Kershaw’s outing, manager Dave Roberts noted that the veteran didn’t have a feel for the slider in his debut and that he was searching for consistent control with his offspeed. Against the Rangers, Kershaw seemed to have a better grasp on his putaway pitch, as he struck out shortstop Corey Seager on a slider in the dirt, froze Nathaniel Lowe with one in the zone for strike three and was able to throw it for strikes, primarily forcing soft contact when it was offered at.

“We came into tonight trying to get a better feel for the slider -- I think we accomplished that,” said Roberts. “I thought he worked both sides of the plate well.”

The slider was Kershaw’s most used and most dominant pitch in 2022, as he threw it 42.7 percent of the time and it had a run value of -10. Opposing hitters only batted .200 against it, with 77 of his 137 strikeouts coming from the slider -- as did three of his four punchouts on Thursday.

Yet Kershaw walked away from the start feeling as though he needed to sharpen his execution with that pitch, remaining his own “harshest critic,” said Roberts.

“My sliders, even my good ones, were getting foul balls instead of swings and misses,” said Kershaw. “There were a couple in there that were good, but still few and far between. I need to get it going, that’s for sure. But I think I got some ideas about how to make it [the slider] a little better. So hopefully, it works.”

Conversely, Kershaw ran into trouble with his fastball, as both home runs he allowed came on that pitch. He also allowed two homers in his Cactus League debut against the Angels last week -- both off fastballs.

“Honestly, the fastball command wasn’t very good tonight,” he said. “I felt like I was behind a lot of hitters.”

Last season, the fastball and slider worked hand in hand for Kershaw. He threw the fastball 39.9 percent of the time, playing it well off the slider due to the pitches’ four mph difference in velocity. However, with a whiff rate of just under 10 percent in 2022, precision with the heater will be the utmost priority for Kershaw -- especially with his fastball velocity having dipped in recent years, ranging from 90-93 mph.