In years past, we haven't gotten many excuses to ask what's wrong with Clayton Kershaw. That's a question that you ask when a pitcher is either hurt or ineffective, and Kershaw has rarely been either.
But on one occasion apiece, the Los Angeles Dodgers lefty ace has been both in 2014. He gave us an excuse to ask what was wrong when he went down with an injury around Opening Day, and again when he got annihilated by the Arizona Diamondbacks his last time out.
The answer the first time around turned out to be nothing major.
And after what happened Friday night, the answer the second time around appears to be nothing at all.
Making his fifth start of the season against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, Kershaw allowed only two hits, walked three and struck out nine in six scoreless innings. He also made it to the 100-pitch plateau despite having to sit through a roughly 45-minute rain delay in the fourth inning.
In the end, the Dodgers rode Kershaw's six scoreless innings, an RBI single by Yasiel Puig and a solo home run by Carl Crawford to a 2-0 victory. Kershaw dropped his ERA from 4.43 to 3.49, and the Dodgers ran their record to 26-23.
Clayton Kershaw was back to his usual self after rough outing in last start. He goes 6 IP, 9 K, 2 H, 0 ER in 2-0 win. pic.twitter.com/A9zvQcLwrP— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 24, 2014
All told, not a bad way for Kershaw to follow up his brutal outing against the Diamondbacks on May 17.
You'll recall, perhaps against your will, that he lasted only one and two-thirds innings in that one, giving up seven runs on six hits and a pair of walks. According to Bill James' Game Score statistic, Baseball-Reference.com says it was the second-worst outing of Kershaw's career.
Maybe we should have seen Friday's bounceback coming, though, with one reason being that bouncing back strong from terrible outings is one of many tricks up Kershaw's sleeve.
Here's Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register with some knowledge:
So in Clayton Kershaw's follow-up starts after 5 worst Gs of his career (7 Rs or more allowed) he has not allowed a run in 38 IP 18 H 37 K— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) May 24, 2014
That's...Um...Well, all you can really say is "wow."
But while this is cool and all, it's not the only reason a bounceback start was in the cards for Kershaw. As poorly as he performed, the under-the-radar silver lining is that there wasn't really anything wrong with him against the Diamondbacks.
It was hard not to at least consider the possibility, of course. It was only Kershaw's third start after coming off his month-long stint on the DL with that weird upper back/shoulder injury he came down with in late March. In watching him get lit up, you couldn't help but fear the worst.
But Kershaw didn't say anything about feeling any discomfort, telling Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times that he just plain "got hit hard tonight." For his part, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he didn't spot any red flags.
And judging from the velocity Kershaw displayed against the Diamondbacks, it certainly doesn't look like he was at less than 100-percent physically. Via Brooks Baseball:
Note: Kershaw also had a start in Sydney, Australia, but there was no pitch-tracking tech to take it all in.
You start worrying that a pitcher is injured when velocity goes down, not when it goes up.
If anything, Kershaw was actually throwing too hard against the Diamondbacks. His fastball command looked all over the place to the naked eye, and the numbers bear that out. Per Brooks Baseball, only 19 of the 33 heaters he threw against Arizona went for strikes. That's 57.6 percent.
Here's where we find one instance of Kershaw penning a different story against Philadelphia.
The raw data at Brooks Baseball says Kershaw averaged 94.0 miles per hour with his heater. That's not 95, but 94 is still pretty good by Kershaw's standards, and better than pretty good if he's controlling it. Which he was on Friday night, throwing 38 of his 55 heaters (about 70 percent) for strikes.
Another thing Kershaw couldn't do against Arizona was fool anybody with his breaking stuff. He did get four whiffs on the 10 sliders and six curveballs he threw, but also yielded three hits. That's very unusual, as both Kershaw's slider and Uncle Charles tend to be pretty far on the "unhittable" side of the breaking-ball scale.
This is another area where the extra velocity might not have been doing Kershaw any favors, but it could have been a night when he simply didn't have a feel for his stuff.
That was the opinion of L.A. sports radio host David Vassegh, anyway.
Kershaw doesn't have his normal slider or his curveball yet today. I haven't seen this in my 3 years watching his starts good or bad— David Vassegh (@THEREAL_DV) May 18, 2014
You can probably guess where we're going from here.
...Yup, Kershaw's slider and curve made a comeback against the Phillies.
The raw data says Kershaw threw 30 sliders. On those, he got 13 whiffs and allowed only one hit. And while the raw data says he threw only seven curves, he didn't allow any hits on those and picked up one of his strikeouts on a wicked one to opposing pitcher Roberto Hernandez in the fifth inning.
That's Kershaw's Friday start in a nutshell: good fastball velocity and command, and two wicked breaking balls.
Which is encouraging, because that's also Kershaw himself in a nutshell. A good heater and two good breaking balls may not be a complicated recipe for success, but it works for him a lot more often than not.
His go-to pitches weren't working for him when he got lit up by the Diamondbacks, but it's apparent that it wasn't because anything was physically wrong. Rather, it looks like he just had a rough day.
Even Clayton Kershaw is allowed to have one of those from time to time.
Friday night's stellar outing alleviated the fears that Kershaw's body was still not 100 percent, and the future should hold plenty more of the same for him if he starts with the same weaponry he used on the Phillies' bats.
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