by Rowan Kavner
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Opposite Diamondbacks For the second time in less than a week, she’s struggling to put it down Christian Walker Away in the midst of a relentless 12-step bet, Clayton Kershaw Try something on Monday night that he hasn’t done since 2020.
Throw a curve ball on the count of three balls.
will Smith He had summoned Public Enemy No. 1 on the field before, but Kershaw shook his catch in favor of a slider. After all, Kershaw scored a 2.39 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in his 15th season in the Major League while only firing four tailors and skaters 83 percent of the time. The left-handed’s reluctance to spin a curve ball while he is behind the count is a reflection of his uncertainty about whether or not he can throw it for the hit.
But after Walker missed his sixth straight pitch, Kershaw realized it was time.
The element of surprise neutralized Arizona’s first baseman, who had caused problems for Kershaw in the past. The curve ball, spinning at 72.9 miles per hour toward the bottom of the area, made Walker swing for one of Kershaw’s 10 hits at night. This was the latest gem in a string of them since the left-handed fell off the list of sufferers, providing further optimism about Kershaw’s health as October approaches.
Director Dave Roberts said, “I know he doesn’t take any beginning for granted, and that’s what makes him great.”
Those matches in late September might not make much of a difference for a Dodger side who have already snatched a Division I goodbye for the first round of the post-season, but they are important to Kershaw as he tries to secure a playoff right after two trips to IL this season due to his pesky back.
He was unavailable last season due to a flexor tendon injury, and was left to watch and reflect on his future Julius UreaAnd the Walker Buhler And the Max Scherzer Carry a lot of shooting load before exiting the National League Championship Series. Kershaw didn’t pick up a baseball game again until January. He’s been feeling much healthier as the holiday goes on – and the MLB shutdown continues. As he contemplated whether to make a comeback with the Dodgers or with his hometown Rangers, the thought of another opportunity in October prompted him to return to the Angels for another year. He felt he could still be an addition to the post-season race.
He’s proving it now in his 34-year season. And with playoffs on the horizon, he doesn’t want to get lost again.
“You want to be a part of it,” Kershaw said. “That’s why I’m back. That’s why everyone wants to be on this team. It’s a special group, and we have a chance to do something special.”
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As of Tuesday afternoon, the Dodgers were the only Major League team to initially boast a 3.00 ERA as a group. They have thrived despite many obstacles. Three-time Cy Young Award winner Scherzer left free agency. Two-time All-Star and post-season superstar Buehler threw his last show of the year on June 10. Tony JohnslinA contender for the National League Cy Young Award, he hasn’t progressed in a month as he tries to come back from forearm fatigue in time to contribute to the post-season.
Each absence makes the presence, health, and production of veterans like Kershaw and Orias all the more vital.
“Anytime you lose an All-Star player late in the season, it’s worrying,” Roberts said. “But you count on the other players to advance.”
If there were any questions about how the nearly month-long layoff affected his recent back injury in the second half for Kershaw and beyond, he answered them with his first four posts from the injured list.
Kershaw is 2-0 with 1.50 ERA, 29 strikes and four Sept walks. In his last two matches, both against the Diamondbacks, Kershaw combined to give up one round with 15 strikes and walk 13 runs. He’ll face formations deeper than Arizona once the playoffs arrive, but the experience of seeing an enemy multiple times in a short space of time is a test he’ll be watching throughout October.
He passed the early September edition with ease.
“Health is there, performance is there, reinforcement is there,” Roberts said. “Obviously the preparation, the mindset, all the things you can count on. We feel good now.”
Essentially a two-footed bowler who sprinkles a highly effective curved ball when needed, Kershaw’s strategy does not vary greatly for different opponents. He is good at what he does well.
Six days after attacking the Diamondbacks with a steady diet of fastballs in the upper area and slides on the edge, the plan on Monday looked pretty much the same. After picking up 10 puffs on the slider against the Diamondbacks last week, he’s got 11 on the field this week against the same opponent.
“You don’t want to overthink,” Kershaw said. “There are a lot of things I can do. I don’t have a lot of tricks up my sleeve, so try to carry out your bids as best as possible. But at the same time, you don’t want to be too predictable either.”
That’s what works for the left-footed player, who has redefined himself while remaining among the league’s elite shooters despite not having the pace in the mid-’90s that he demonstrated in his twenties. He still only needs the fast ball and the slider to succeed, which brings the two pitches close to perfect. They powered nine of his 10 hits on Monday night, helping the Dodgers snatch a first round in the process.
But sometimes, finishing a long racket requires something more, like a full count curve ball when it’s not expected.
“You can’t give up,” Kershaw said. “You can’t show you’re tired. You can’t go wrong. You just have to keep going.”
That’s also Kershaw’s plan as he prepares for the playoffs, now on track to contribute the way he envisioned when the Dodgers picked this off season.
“Physically, I feel better,” Kershaw said. “I’m in good shape…I got another couple until October.”
Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. Previously he was Dodgers Editor for digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @Rowan Kavner.
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