Do you want to know what makes Clayton Kershaw baseball's best pitcher? It can be summed up simply by something Kershaw said after his poor outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks a few days ago.
"I gave up runs and hits," Kershaw said after he allowed three runs, six hits and a walk in 3.2 innings of work.
The great ones never want to be scored upon. Just ask Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson or Tom Seaver. The desire to excel is a necessary ingredient for reaching greatness.
Kershaw is a realist. He was bothered but not worried by his poor outing, which was his last tuneup before he pitches in the Los Angeles Dodgers' opener on April 5 against the San Diego Padres.
How does Kershaw feel about giving up runs and even some hits?
"It's usually what constitutes a bad outing," he told reporters.
Sometimes a pitcher thinks that he is ready but events reveal otherwise. Against the Diamondbacks, Kershaw needed 25 pitches to get out of the first inning. Jason Kubel touched him for a two-run home run, which temporarily frustrated Kershaw.
"I was deep into a lot of counts, throwing too many pitches," he said.
The Dodgers brain trust is far from being worried. Every pitcher, especially in spring training, has an off day. No matter what a player says about bearing down all the time, exhibition games don't count.
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt discounted the performance completely.
"He's got the type of personality that's never going to be satisfied," said Honeycutt. "It's what makes him so good."
Don Mattingly, who faced a few great pitchers during his playing days, knows Kershaw well.
"He's ready," Mattingly said. "He's healthy. He's built up. The only thing I worry about him any time is that he's putting pressure on himself to be perfect and not letting it happen."
Despite the poor outing, Kershaw finished spring training with a 2.45 ERA in 22 innings. He had been Clayton Kershaw in his other appearances, allowing only three runs in 18.1 innings.
"I like to pitch well no matter when I go out there," Kershaw said. "It is no fun to pitch bad. It doesn't count until April 5th so hopefully all the bad ones are out of my system."
The Dodgers and their fans may worry about their other four starters, but Kershaw is on his way to being Sandy Koufax with a long career.