Dodger fans had all heard the hype. Mid-to-high 90s fastball, knee-buckling curve, great command, great makeup. The next Valenzuela. The next Koufax.
Clayton Kershaw didn't quite reach those lofty standards Sunday, but give the guy a break. It was only his major league debut. Kershaw, the 20-year old former first-round pick, threw six stellar innings, but didn't factor into the decision as the Dodgers beat the Cardinals 4-3.
Kershaw gave up five hits and two runs, struck out seven and walked only one, thoroughly confusing the Cardinals all day long. He missed a chance to pick up a win when a combination of Corey Wade, Joe Beimel, and Jon Broxton blew the save in the seventh. He nonetheless made quite an impression in his debut.
Kershaw provided the crowd some excitement when he struck out the first batter he faced. He only made one mistake: a hanging curveball to Albert Pujols in the first inning. Other than that, he changed speeds effectively, located both his fastball and curve well, and showed some real guts getting out of a two-on one-out jam in the sixth. He blew away Ryan Ludwick twice, and absolutely froze Troy Glaus on a 72 mph curve to end a threat in the first.
Kershaw's greatest attribute at this stage of his career is his ability to change speeds. With a mid-90s fastball, mid-80s changeup, and a mid-70s curve with a very deceptive motion, Kershaw is the type of pitcher that could succeed even without great command. But he showed Sunday that he has both the command and makeup to be one of the greats. It may be early in his career, but it is so far, so good for Clayton Kershaw.