Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw Recaptures Cy Young Form During Dominant June

Nick Ostiller@@NickOstillerContributor IIJuly 1, 2014

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw celebrates his no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies after  a baseball game in Los Angeles, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Kershaw struck out a career-high 15 batters. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Chris Carlson/Associated Press

For a guy who's led the big leagues in ERA the past three seasons and has won two Cy Young Awards over that time, there's not much left to prove.

Unless, of course, that player is Clayton Kershaw. A competitor who strives for greatness, he is never satisfied.

Even with all the Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw has accomplished over the past few years, this past June may have been the 26-year-old's best stretch yet.

Kershaw's totals from his six starts this past month: 6-0, 0.82 ERA, 61 strikeouts, four walks, four earned runs in 44 innings pitched.

This is the Kershaw that the Dodgers expected to see after signing him to a record seven-year, $215 million contract over the winter.

Not the one that missed all of April with a shoulder injury. Not the one who split his next four decisions upon returning from the disabled list—including a forgettable May night in Arizona during which the last-place Diamondbacks blasted him for seven runs in less than two innings.

June was about redemption for Kershaw, just as it was for the Dodgers. The team erased the San Francisco Giants' 9.5-game division lead in a matter of 21 days while Kershaw cemented his legacy as the best pitcher on the planet.

Here's how he did it.

June 2 vs. Chicago White Sox

8 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 9 K, 0 BB, W

Heading into this interleague matchup, Kershaw's season ERA stood at 3.32. This number might have been respectable for most pitchers, but not Kershaw.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

After all, his career ERA heading into this season was 2.57. 

To make matters worse, Kershaw was still looking for his first home victory of the 2014 campaign. That's how badly things had gone for him and the Dodgers up to that point in the season.

It was already the third month of action and Los Angeles was just two games above .500, unable to keep pace with the surging Giants.

After giving up a two-run home run to rookie slugger Jose Abreu in the fourth inning, Kershaw settled down and began his current run of pitching dominance.

The White Sox were able to muster just two hits the rest of the game against Kershaw, only one of which left the infield.

"The great ones don't worry about the past," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt told the Associated Press after the game. "They just know what they've got to do going forward."

The Dodgers as a team didn't do much moving forward, dropping the next two games to lose the series.

June 8 at Colorado Rockies

5 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 9 K, 0 BB, W 

It always seems to be a bigger challenge for pitchers to do their job in the high altitude of Colorado. Even the best ones have trouble at Coors Field.

Kershaw was no exception. Last September, the Rockies pounded him for five runs on a season-high 11 hits. In fact, Kershaw owned a career 5.24 ERA at Coors Field entering the game.

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 02:  Starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers works against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on September 2, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. Kershaw earned the win as the Dodgers defeated the Rockies 10-8.  (Phot
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

But it was a new year and a new month. Kershaw was in the midst of flipping the script, and he made sure the Rockies were aware by striking out the side in order in the first inning.

The next three outs Kershaw recorded were also via the punchout. By the end of the fifth inning, he had already equaled his strikeout total from the previous game with nine. 

It was clear that not even the pouring rain could cool down the left arm of the law. The umpires decided to call the game with the Dodgers up 6-1 in the sixth inning, giving Kershaw his second straight victory.

The outcome also gave Los Angeles its first series win of the month. Still, there were 9.5 games separating the Dodgers from the first-place Giants in the NL West.

June 13 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

7 IP, 1 ER, 8 H, 7 K, 1 BB, W

It had been nearly a month since the Diamondbacks surprised the baseball world by shellacking Kershaw for seven runs in Arizona.

“I just got hit hard.. I don’t know why,” Kershaw told John Marshall of the Associated Press after that short outing on May 17.

Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

He made sure not to let that happen again, lasting five innings longer this time around. Aaron Hill's RBI double in the third inning would be the only run Kershaw would allow. It's also the last run Kershaw has allowed this season.

After surrendering the seven runs in his previous start against Arizona, he turned that number around and fanned seven Diamondbacks en route to his third straight victory.

With the win, Kershaw also dipped his season ERA below 3.00 for the first time in over a month.

The Dodgers were still a disappointing 14-19 at home and 7.5 games behind the Giants. It wasn't until his next start that things really started becoming special.

June 18 vs. Colorado Rockies

9 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 15 K, 0 BB, W

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

The Rockies thought they had seen the best Kershaw had to offer 10 days earlier in Colorado.

They were sorely mistaken.

Leading up to this game, Kershaw had already accomplished some of baseball's most prestigious pitching feats. He had been a 20-game winner. He was the reigning ERA leader for three years running. He had two Cy Young Awards and probably deserved a third. 

What he didn't have was a no-hitter.

It soon became apparent that this might change as batter after batter looked continually overmatched in the wake of Kershaw's nasty arsenal.

Mid-90s fastballs painted both corners of the plate. Big, sweeping curveballs dropped perfectly into catcher A.J. Ellis' mitt as called third strikes. High-80s sliders looked just like those fastballs before diving away from flailing Rockies at the last second.

It was fitting that the final out of the masterpiece came by way of the strikeout—Kershaw's career-high 15th of the game.

He raised his arms to the sky as the crowd of 46,069 went wild. His teammates mobbed him on the field. He thanked the fans during an on-field interview and then hugged his wife. It was perfection, even if Hanley Ramirez's error in the seventh inning proved otherwise.

The Dodgers had swept a series for the first time since May 1 and moved six games over .500 for the first time all season. Meanwhile, the Giants were scuffling. With the win, Los Angeles sat only four games out of first place in the division.

June 24 at Kansas City Royals

8 IP, 0 ER, 6 H, 8 K, 1 BB, W

What would Kershaw do for an encore?

The answer was simple: more of the same.

Although the Royals' Eric Hosmer quickly erased any idea of another no-hitter with a single in the first inning, Kershaw was still able to subdue Kansas City's lineup for the rest of the night.

He struck out eight batters, including Billy Butler, who gave a detailed account of his fate to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. All six hits Kershaw allowed were singles.

Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

Yet even after another dominating shutout, Kershaw admitted that "it definitely wasn't easy," per the Associated Press.

Perhaps it's wasn't as simple as he made throwing a 15-strikeout no-hitter look. Perhaps it was the fact that his walk to Kansas City's Alex Gordon was only the second he had allowed to a left-handed batter all season.

Since Kershaw had achieved a certain level of greatness the game before, anything less could be considered inferior.

That's what separates Kershaw from the pack. That's what makes him different.

The Dodgers would go on to win their fourth straight series and inch closer to the fast-fading Giants as the month drew to a close. Kershaw still had one start left to make in June, and it would come against a painful nemesis.

June 29 vs. St. Louis Cardinals

7 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 13 K, 2 BB, W

Most Dodgers fans remember how last season ended: Kershaw walking off the Busch Stadium mound as the Cardinals ran away with Game 6 of the NLCS amid their red sea of fans.

If anyone on the Dodgers needed an incentive to beat St. Louis on Sunday at Dodger Stadium, it was Kershaw.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the St Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on June 29, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

He remembered last October and was eager for a chance to put it behind him.

Kershaw never allowed a runner to reach third base and struck out at least one Cardinal in each of his seven innings pitched.

When he left the game with the Dodgers up 6-0, the southpaw had amassed another 13 strikeouts to give him 61 for the month—the most by any Dodgers pitcher not named Sandy Koufax, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register.

But Kershaw wasn't concerned about the fact that he hadn't allowed a run in 28 innings, the eighth longest streak for a Dodgers pitcher since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958.

"More importantly, we've just won every game," Kershaw said, according to the Associated Press. "We're on a good run. In a long season, we'll go on a bunch of runs. We've just got to make sure the lowest points aren't as low."

Los Angeles Dodgers Scoreless Innings Streaks
PitcherYearInnings Pitched
Orel Hershiser198859
Don Drysdale196858
Fernando Valenzuela198135
Don Sutton197235
Sandy Koufax196333
Orel Hershiser198432
Fernando Valenzuela1980-8131
Clayton Kershaw201428
Los Angeles Times

In fact, the run has been so good for the Dodgers that Kershaw's June capstone on Sunday launched the team into a tie with the Giants atop the NL West.

Los Angeles took sole possession of first a day later with its victory over the Cleveland Indians on Monday.

Kershaw's next opportunity to shine will come this weekend at Coors Field against the Rockies.

Maybe this time somebody will get a hit.

All stats courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.