Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw pulled from playoff start

Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw pulled from playoff
San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers / Harry How/GettyImages

The ball took off into the air, and Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, in a painful picture that is all too common in this area at this time of year, laid his hands on his knees, head down, legs slightly bent, back facing home plate.

The Arizona Diamondbacks led five runs after a three-run home run by teenage catcher Gabriel Moreno. However, within the first ten minutes of Saturday night’s Game 1 of the National League Division Series, Kershaw recorded the first out.

Never before have the Los Angeles Dodgers needed Kershaw more—especially with their starting rotation in upheaval going into October. But they are more apprehensive than ever about what he can provide them. An unsettling indicator emerged from their playoff debut: six runs given up, one out, and probably the worst playoff start in baseball history.

“Disappointing,” was Kershaw’s reaction following an 11-2 defeat. “Embarrassing. You just feel like you let everybody down. The guys, a whole organization, that looked to you to pitch well in Game 1. It’s just embarrassing, really. So I just feel like I let everybody down. It’s a tough way to start the postseason. Obviously, we still have a chance at this thing, but that wasn’t the way it should’ve started for me.”

Despite a sore left shoulder, Kershaw pitched brilliantly throughout the last two months of the regular season. Although he pitched to a 2.23 ERA in an eight-start period and was limited to just roughly five innings at a time in an attempt to keep his arm fresh for the games that counted most, his fastball was a tick or two slower and his appearances came after an extra day or two of rest.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before the first game that “this is as good as he’s felt physically in the last couple months.” In the end, Kershaw made major league history as the first pitcher in a playoff game to give up five hits and five runs without recording an out. Kershaw, for the first time in his 454 career starts, failed to complete the first inning. Kershaw, whose playoff record is notoriously erratic, is one of only three pitchers in postseason history to allow six runs or more while recording one out or fewer.

Kershaw’s performance, according to Dodgers catcher Will Smith, “looked like the normal stuff that it’s been all year.” Kershaw repeated Roberts’ assertion that there was nothing physically wrong.

Kershaw responded, “I feel fine,” when asked if he was well enough to continue to support the team. “I am doing OK. Obviously, I didn’t make enough strong pitches tonight. This is simply poor pitching; there is no health concern.”

The second pitch from Kershaw was a 73-mph curveball that was slightly low. It was hit to center field at 116 mph and bounced off James Outman’s glove, leading to a double that was likely incorrectly called. The rookie Outman claimed that although the ball accelerated against him, his “nerves kind of got the best of me.”

After Christian Walker singled and Corbin Carroll and Tommy Pham singled consecutively, Moreno, whose condition was unknown after he was hit in the head by a backswing during Arizona’s previous game on Wednesday, launched a 419-foot home run to left-center field, shocking the still-entering Dodger Stadium crowd.

Following a walk with one out and another double, Kershaw was replaced by rookie right-hander Emmet Sheehan three batters later.

“Usually Clayton does a great job of controlling, managing damage,” Roberts stated. “And tonight unfortunately we didn’t do that.”

In 194⅓ innings, Kershaw’s playoff ERA jumped from 4.22 to 4.49 due to the outing. It is the highest among the 31 pitchers in big league history with more than 100 innings pitched in the postseason, two runs above his excellent 2.48 regular-season ERA.

Kershaw’s reputation has been severely damaged by the disparity, but it is also complex because of other appearances in which he pitched with little rest, was utilized in relief, or was left in longer than usual. This time, it increased dramatically during a period when Kershaw, who is 35 years old, with about 3,000 innings of experience but a history of injuries, is not at his best.

“I don’t think anybody in the baseball world was expecting that,” said Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman, part of an offense that did little against an aggressive Merrill Kelly. “But next time Clayton Kershaw’s on the mound, we’ll be just as confident again. Hopefully, we can get him back on that mound.”

According to Roberts, Kershaw’s next start is still scheduled for Thursday, July 4, at Chase Field in Phoenix. This game will take place if the Dodgers are not swept.

Kershaw is the lone survivor of the Dodgers’ starting lineup. Season-ending procedures were performed on Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin; Julio Urias is on administrative leave following accusations of domestic abuse; Noah Syndergaard battled valiantly before being traded away; and Walker Buehler was delayed returning from his second Tommy John surgery.

The Dodgers’ unorthodox pitching strategy for the postseason includes a large number of relievers and rookies. However, they need Kershaw to resurrect some of his greatness if they are to make another deep run and steer clear of the early-round setbacks that have dogged them recently.

For Game 4, they need him to fully recuperate.

“I’ll be ready,” Kershaw told. “Yeah, I’ll be ready.”

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