Clayton "Chinstrap" Kershaw took the mound Saturday night in Los Angeles looking to redeem himself after taking a loss his last time out against Milwaukee, in a game where he only worked four innings and allowed a career-high six walks.
Chinstrap found a full measure of redemption against the Atlanta Braves, hurling seven innings of shutout ball, conceding only two hits and one run while striking out 10 batters. Of his 103 pitches, 70 were strikes.
The bad news for Kershaw, and Dodger fans, was the equally impressive work of the Braves' Kenshin Kawakami, who matched Chinstrap goose egg for goose egg.
Japanese Special K
Kawakami, a MLB rookie who had previously logged 11 seasons with Chunichi of Japan's Central League, faced Los Angeles for the first time in his MLB career.
He matched Chinstrap's seven shutout innings while allowing four hits and three walks. He also struck out four Dodger batters. Kawakami delivered 125 pitches, of which 76 were strikes.
Kawakami entered the game having allowed three earned runs or fewer in 14 of his last 16 starts. He had also allowed five or fewer hits in five of his last eight outings.
Incredibly, Kawakami has not won in his last five starts, counting his outing against the Dodgers. He has only one win in his last eight starts and two in the last 13.
Where's the Eye Chart?
Kershaw left the game for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh inning, as the Dodgers had loaded the bases with two out. Mark Loretta was called out on strikes by home plate umpire Mike Reilly, who ruled Loretta did not hold up on a check swing. This came after Brad Ausmus had struck out.
Both teams were not happy with Mr. Reilly's strike zone, and there were some rumblings heard in the press box, as a few of the reporters who were sitting around your humble correspondent also had their reservations as to the quality of Mr. Reilly's work.
This follows up the game before, when Eric Cooper seemed to confuse the hand signal for a strike and apply it to a pitch he ruled to be ball four. Mr. Cooper was able to record both a manager and pitcher in the ejection fantasy league standings though.
Atlanta's Bobby Cox, the skipper who holds Major League Baseball's all-time record for ejections of a manager, had to question the call, which converted a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play into runners on first and second. It appeared to this observer Cox had justifiable reason for his displeasure.
After discussing the matter for a bit, Cooper gave Cox the heave-ho. When Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens was lifted later in the inning, a few choice words from him triggered a second ejection, along with the lightening of his wallet.
Return of Belisario
An hour before the start of this game, the Dodgers optioned out reliever Scott Elbert, who had been tabbed to make his first major league start on Sunday. His roster spot was taken by Ronald Belisario, who had been put on the DL effective July 6 due to elbow discomfort in his pitching arm.
Fortunately, the injury Belisario suffered was not as serious as first feared, and the Dodgers were able to use one of their most pleasant surprises this season in this game.
He came in to start the eighth inning and faced three hitters, getting a couple of ground outs before walking pinch hitter Kelly Johnson.
At that point Dodger manager Joe Torre called for George Sherrill. The recent acquisition from the Baltimore Orioles issued a free pass of his own, to pinch hitter Greg Norton, before retiring Ryan Church on a force play.
That Just Ain't Right, Man
Elbert's elevator ride scheduled for the penthouse, in the form of his first major league start, snapped a cable and plunged him into the basement, courtesy an option back to the minors.
The extra-inning game Friday forced Torre's hand, and Elbert gave up a couple of runs and a homer off the bat of Church. He did strike out Adam LaRoche before the damage was suffered.
Torre continued to play his new cards by also inserting Tony Abreu into the starting lineup at third base. Abreu delivered a few nice defensive plays and went 1-for-3 at the plate with a walk.
Given the team will have a day game next, Torre decided to start the game with both Casey Blake and Russell Martin on the bench. It would not be surprising to see one of the middle infielders get tomorrow off as well.
Return of Stults
After the game, Torre announced the Dodger starter for Sunday will be Eric Stults. He will be added to the active roster tomorrow, pending a still-to-be-decided move to open some space.
Torre and Ned Colletti were not willing to give any hints as to who would get sliced, and a decision might not come until around noon, as the game will start at 1 PM.
This is a very good move, as I have been impressed with Stults' work over the last two seasons and would feel very comfortable with him in the starting rotation.
Far more comfortable than with some of the carcasses currently sitting on the side of the MLB starter superhighway, such as John Smoltz.
While Stults might never reach the level Smoltz had known in the past, his present is far superior to the one Smoltz is living with. Stults should be very effective in the four or five hole in the Dodger rotation for the next few years.
Photo Credit: JC Ayvazi