Kershaw's slow start problematic
Left-hander can't find rhythm early in loss, and Kemp's misplay doesn't help matters
LOS ANGELES -- Much will be made, and rightly so, of the fact Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp misplayed a ball into a triple in the first inning Thursday night, a play that let in the only two runs of the game in a 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates before 40,185 at Dodger Stadium.
Much also will be made, and rightly so, of the fact the Dodgers scored the same number of runs (nine) in the one game Clayton Kershaw won this season as they have in his other four starts combined.
In the end, though, on a chilly and brutally windy evening when Kershaw was otherwise otherworldly, this performance was more about how long it took him to achieve that lofty level. Because when the game officially began, at 7:11 p.m. local time, Kershaw clearly wasn't quite ready yet.
That is the only reasonable explanation for why he walked the first two batters he faced, with both of them eventually scoring; why it took him 19 pitches to record his first out; and why it took him 32 pitches to get out of the first inning.
Of the 10 runs Kershaw has given up this season, six have come in the first inning.
"After the first inning, he pitched a heck of a ballgame," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Pitchers for years have had trouble in the first inning. Tom Glavine used to struggle in the first inning, Sandy Koufax. With Kersh, it's something he will have to grow into. He may have gone out there pumped up and tried to overthrow the ball. But I give him a lot of credit. Thirty-two pitches in the first inning, and he wound up going into the seventh."
Kershaw simply said he couldn't find his rhythm in the first inning. He came back from those consecutive walks to Lastings Milledge and Andy LaRoche to strike out Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, putting himself on the verge of getting out of the jam. But Ryan Doumit hit a sinking liner to center; Kemp got caught in a split second of indecision as to whether to catch it or lay up on it; it skipped under his glove and rolled to the wall, and the Pirates had all the runs they would need on a night when the Dodgers were shut out for the third time in their past five games and the fourth time this year.
Kershaw then retired the next eight batters in a row.
"It's always nice when you can get that first hitter out and settle in quickly and feel more comfortable with the game," Kershaw said. "But when you go 3-0 on the first hitter, you don't have that rhythm. It's something you have to find faster than I did."
His solid 3.07 ERA notwithstanding, it's also something Kershaw has to find on a regular basis, especially if he keeps getting the level of run support he is getting now. After all, even if Kemp had made the right decision to field Doumit's ball on the hop, Milledge still would have scored from second and the Dodgers still would have lost 1-0.
On a night when the Dodgers went hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position, Kershaw certainly didn't help matters when he made a critical baserunning blunder in the third inning after working Brian Burres for a walk.
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With runners on the corners, one out and Russell Martin at the plate, Burres threw a pitch that bounced away -- but not that far away -- from Doumit. Kershaw took off for second. Doumit recovered quickly and fired to second. Kershaw appeared to beat the throw, but he also appeared to keep his lead foot airborne as he slid into the bag, allowing Pirates second baseman Bobby Crosby to apply the tag. Martin grounded to third, ending the threat.
By the numbers
.122 -- batting average (5-for-41) for backup outfielder Garret Anderson, a three-time All-Star, in his 17th major league season. Anderson has struck out 12 times and has an equally hideous on-base percentage of .159. He has started three games since Manny Ramirez has been on the 15-day disabled list because of a right-calf strain, and Anderson is 0-for-12 with four strikeouts in those games. He failed to hit a ball out of the infield in four at-bats Thursday night. Although Xavier Paul, who was called up from Triple-A Albuquerque to take Ramirez's roster spot, is hitting just .182 himself, the Dodgers might have a decision to make with Anderson when Ramirez returns.
Quote of the day
"It was one of those in-between hops, and I wasn't sure if I should try to catch it or let one run score and keep the other runner on third base. I should have kept it in front of me. That's all I can really say about it. I can't make no excuses. I just missed the ball." -- Center fielder Kemp, whose first-inning defensive gaffe couldn't have come at a worse time with general manager Ned Colletti having publicly questioned Kemp's defensive play and baserunning during a radio interview earlier this week.
The Dodgers will find out whether Chad Billingsley's latest rediscovering of himself -- he threw six outstanding innings Sunday at Washington -- is finally for real when the embattled right-hander takes the mound against the Pirates and Charlie Morton, whose ghastly 16.20 ERA isn't the result of skewed math; Morton has been pretty much awful in all four of his starts this season.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.