Dodgers mash early, often to back Kershaw

September 19th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- The Dodgers had much of Sunday’s game mapped out ahead of time, including how long Clayton Kershaw would pitch, how many pitches he’d throw and when Tony Gonsolin would come in to relieve him.

Other items fell into place as well, though not as easy to plan ahead for, including a handy 8-5 win over the Reds and a display of power spread out over the bottom half of the order -- a little course correction after a couple of lighter days at the plate.

It all went nearly flawlessly. Kershaw hit the exact numbers the Dodgers were looking for in the lefty’s second start back since returning from the injured list, and more significantly, he looked strong during his 74-pitch, five-inning performance. The win allowed the Dodgers to keep pace with the Giants, who were scheduled to play the Braves in San Francisco later in the afternoon.

The combination of L.A.'s win over Cincinnati and San Francisco's loss to Atlanta means that the Dodgers sit just one game behind the first-place Giants in the National League West race.

“We checked all the boxes,” manager Dave Roberts said. “You just never know, the game can be so unpredictable. But how we looked at it, it played out the way we would have liked. Really good across the board on the pitching and run prevention side. And just offensively, I thought it was our best overall team approach today.”

Kershaw is still building up stamina and command after a two-month layoff while recovering from elbow issues, but he appears on track to be at full strength when October arrives. Roberts said Kershaw will be stretched to six innings in his next start.  

The key to this win was Kershaw’s slider, which he threw 54 percent of the time and with which he recorded 15 swings and misses. 

“It was better today overall,” Kershaw said. “The Reds are a team that’s pretty aggressive with the fastball. The gameplan today was to throw some spin. [Catcher] Will Smith and I were on the same page as far as that goes. 

“Guys got some early swings on the slider. Toward the end there, they started backing up a little bit. I need to fix that, but overall, I thought it was better today.”

Roberts suspected Kershaw was squeezed on a few calls a little early in the game, but noted that overall, the veteran lefty was “fantastic.” 

“I think the story of the day was that the slider was really good,” Roberts said. “He threw some really good curveballs, fastballs mixed in there. But overall, just really in control.”

“He’s Clayton Kershaw,” right fielder Mookie Betts said. “He was doing his thing. I’ve had that vantage point for two years now, it’s pretty fun to watch.”

Where Kershaw thrived, Reds starter Wade Miley struggled, and the Dodgers pounced. On a hot, humid day at Great American Ball Park, Will Smith launched a solo homer in the second, and following Chris Taylor’s base hit, Gavin Lux connected with a two-run shot to put the Dodgers up 3-0.

Corey Seager added a two-run homer off Miley in the third, a 420-foot shot to right-center that left his bat at 105 mph.

In the two games since Lux was hit by a ball from a pitching machine and initially deemed unavailable to finish the series in Cincinnati, the outfielder logged four hits in seven at-bats with five RBIs.

“They were on early today, did a great job,” Kershaw said of the Dodgers’ offense. “Wade is somebody that works fast, throws a lot of strikes. I think we just attacked him early, got some guys on base. It was nice to get that run support early and try to make it hold up.”