ST. LOUIS -- Following a second-half opener he and the rest of the Los Angeles Dodgers would like to forget as soon as possible, a 7-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals before 41,771 on Thursday night at Busch Stadium, Clayton Kershaw couldn't give a reason for his complete lack of command.
He could explain why he walked the first two batters of the game, why he needed 21 pitches to record the first out and 31 to get out of the first inning, why the Cardinals' leadoff man reached in each of the five innings he started or why he failed to finish five innings for the first time in more than two months.
But Kershaw was pretty sure he knew what the reason wasn't. Yes, the Dodgers' left-hander was pitching on six days' rest, two more than usual. But it wasn't the first time this season he had done it. The last time he did it, he took advantage of the extra breather and came back with a masterful performance on June 16 at Cincinnati.
"That wasn't too many starts ago," Kershaw said. "I didn't stop throwing. I threw Tuesday and Wednesday, just like I normally would. I can't blame this on [the extra rest]. It just wasn't my night."
Kershaw threw his regular bullpen session Sunday in Los Angeles, two days after turning in one of his best starts of the year in a Friday night win over the Chicago Cubs. He said he then threw a second, abbreviated session, about 15 pitches, on Tuesday and played catch Wednesday, both while he was at home in the Dallas area during the All-Star break.
The difference is between the time Kershaw pitched against the Cardinals on June 9 at Dodger Stadium and the time he faced the Reds a full week later, he was still with the team every day, even if his normal, between-starts routine had to be adjusted for the extra rest. This time, the six days between starts included the three-day break, which with travel and everything else involved can take a player out of his normal routine more than at any other time during the season.
"He was in a good rhythm getting to the end of the first half," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said.
Against the Cardinals, though, Kershaw was never in any kind of rhythm. After walking Felipe Lopez and Colby Rasmus to start the game, he wouldn't issue another unintentional walk. But the Cardinals would hammer him for eight hits, including two leadoff doubles. They would have a 5-1 lead by the time Dodgers manager Joe Torre came to get Kershaw with one out in the fifth, right after rookie Allen Craig, who was recalled from Triple-A Memphis earlier in the day, hit a sacrifice fly to deep center.
"I was out of my rhythm early, and I was bouncing my fastball," Kershaw said. "I really can't be doing that."
Especially on an evening when All-Star right-hander Chris Carpenter was dealing as usual for the Cardinals, holding the Dodgers (49-40) to four hits over eight dazzling innings, including Andre Ethier's 15th home run of the season with one out in the fourth.
The Dodgers fell back into third place in the National League West, 2 1/2 games behind division-leading San Diego.
"[Kershaw] wasn't sharp," Honeycutt said. "He didn't have good enough fastball command, so his offspeed pitches never offset [the fastball]. It seemed like in the first inning, everything was down, so in the second inning, he tried to adjust and the ball was always up. He was never in between. Also, he couldn't throw any curveballs for strikes, so it was all sliders and fastballs."
This was the shortest start for Kershaw (9-5) since he was famously knocked out in the second inning by the Milwaukee Brewers on May 4. He bounced back from that one just as famously, by outdueling Ubaldo Jimenez on May 9, the day the Dodgers handed the Colorado right-hander and NL Cy Young frontrunner his only defeat of the season. Kershaw will get his chance to bounce back from this one on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, against San Francisco.
"He hadn't pitched in a week," Torre said. "I think you have to chalk it up to that, because his last outing was outstanding. Again, it goes back to 22-year-old stuff. It's something you have to understand is going to happen from time to time."
Lost in the shuffle
In what had to be an awkward day for him, Dodgers reliever George Sherrill found something positive to take away from it. While throwing in the bullpen before the game, Honeycutt and bullpen coach Ken Howell noticed something Sherrill was doing that no one had picked up before.
"When I would lift my plant [left] foot, my heel was sliding forward," Sherrill said. "It wasn't that much, but it was enough that it was throwing my line off. It's something that is kind of hard to see when the camera is in center field, trying to pick up the plate, the mound and whatever else."
One day after news somehow leaked that Sherrill had been put on outright waivers by the club because of his 7.32 ERA, a result of his maddening, season-long inability to find consistency with his pitching mechanics, Sherrill came on to begin the eighth inning and promptly retired the first two batters, Brendan Ryan and Felipe Lopez, before giving up a bloop single to right to Randy Winn and then turning it over to rookie Jon Link.
It was a small step in a lopsided loss, but it might have been a giant leap for Sherrill, who doesn't necessarily have to be outrighted to the minors if and when he clears waivers.
"Hopefully, this is a step toward staying here," he said.
Ethier, the Dodgers' All-Star right fielder, continued the offensive surge with which he finished the first half. After hitting .390 with a .432 on-base percentage from July 1 through the break, Ethier went 2-for-4, including a towering solo homer to right-center off the otherwise-unhittable Carpenter.
Ethier also made one great catch, a diving grab of a blooper by Lopez to end the second with a runner on second, and another really good one, running far into right-center to haul in a fast-sinking fly ball by Yadier Molina to end the first and save another run.
Right-hander Chad Billingsley (7-4, 4.14), who, like Kershaw, will be pitching on six days' rest, is 1-2 with a 4.40 ERA in six career appearances (five starts) against the Cardinals and is 0-1 with a 4.02 in three starts at Busch Stadium. Cardinals rookie Jaime Garcia (8-4, 2.17) has the third-lowest ERA in the NL, but he is almost a run better at Busch, where he leads the NL in home ERA at 1.20.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.