Commentary

Clayton Kershaw continues emergence

Dodgers lefty is always thought of as the future, but he seems ready now in 6-0 win

Updated: August 18, 2010, 8:57 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- For now, the future tense is still probably best.

He still slips back a little too often. Makes mistakes he should've learned to fix by now. Falling behind hitters, getting into trouble by walking guys he should be blowing away.

And yet, for all his youthful errors, Clayton Kershaw is emerging as one of the best young left-handed starters in the game.

Is emerging. Present tense.

You just haven't noticed because his potential is so unlimited it's easy to focus on what he still has to learn, rather than on what he already has.

In the Dodgers' 6-0 win over the Rockies on Tuesday -- a win which will either go down as the beginning of a glorious Dodgers comeback or just another glimmer of false hope -- Kershaw was both dominant and overly demure.

[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
Harry How/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw, one of the brightest young pitchers in the league, is still going through growing pains despite showing flashes of brilliance.

Nevertheless, he picked up his 11th win, lowered his ERA to 3.03 and struck out six to give him 163 for the season. Those 11 wins are best among National League left-handers, breaking a tie with St. Louis' Jaime Garcia and New York's Johan Santana, both of whom lost Tuesday. Kershaw's ERA is third among NL lefties, and his strikeout total now leads Philadelphia's Cole Hamels (157), who is scheduled to pitch Thursday against the Giants.

Those kinds of numbers would lead you to believe Kershaw has arrived. Yet it still doesn't feel that way.

Future tense still seems more fitting.

"I think Kershaw is showing you more and more why he's going to be somebody special," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "He gets himself in trouble and goes through the middle of their lineup and keeps them from scoring. This kid's still learning."

Overly critical? Perhaps.

But even Kershaw speaks more about his future than his present.

It's out of modestly, mostly, but also realism.

Finally, and perhaps in a way that will soon be very fruitful for the Dodgers, Kershaw is starting to see the road he will have to travel to go from good to great.

"You're always learning," he said. "I think when I first came up, I wasn't pitching to contact as much as I should, maybe walking too many guys. Still this year I've walked too many guys, but I've been able to combat that a little bit. Being aggressive is really the main thing.

"I think sometimes when I got into two-strike mode, I was maybe looking for [the strikeout] instead of just making them make weak contact or something like that. It sometimes got me deep into counts, and my pitch count got up, and all that bad stuff."

As Kershaw fielded questions in front of his locker after the game, reliever George Sherrill sat quietly and worked on a crossword puzzle.

All season, Sherrill's been searching for answers. His scuffles mirror the Dodgers' struggles.

Sherrill looked up from his puzzle just as Kershaw was leaving the room. The words came right to him.

"He's our ace," Sherrill said.

Here and now. Present tense.

Which of course just reminds us how bright his future still is.

Furcal suffers setback

Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal has suffered a setback in his rehabilitation from a back injury that has sidelined him since Aug. 2.

Torre said Furcal's back stiffened up after the team's cross-country flight home from Atlanta late Monday night.

This could simply be a minor setback related to the long flight, but the Dodgers kept Furcal out of all baseball activities Tuesday and have pushed back plans for him to begin his minor league rehab assignment. The team had hoped he could begin his rehab assignment Wednesday, if his back continued to improve.

"He came in a little tight today and didn't look terrible, but we were hoping that he had nothing," Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said. "The fact that he had some tightness is concerning for a guy that has had a back problem before, so we take a half a step back and see how he does the rest of the day."

Furcal had been throwing, running and fielding without pain the past three our four days. He was already scheduled to be evaluated by team doctors Tuesday.

Furcal has been on the 15-day disabled list since Aug. 11, but he has been sidelined with the injury since Aug. 2, when he left a game with the San Diego Padres after experiencing minor back discomfort before the game that gradually worsened during the game.

Torre had hinted earlier this week that Furcal's rehab probably will consist of no more than a couple of games.

Baby steps

They entered to boos, and neither man could really argue. Whatever your feelings about whether home fans should boo their own players, it's hard to dispute the frustration relievers George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton have caused Dodgers fans this year.

On this night, though, both men came through. Sherrill came in with two runners on in the eighth to retire the side, his fourth straight appearance without giving up a run. Broxton pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.

"Hopefully it's something we can both feed off of," Sherrill said. "I know it was 5-0 when I came in and 6-0 when he came in, but hopefully it's a start to something.

"I've been mechanically off all season, and now he's hit a little snag with his. To me it has nothing to do with confidence or anything like that. We both know there's something wrong. We both know we can pitch, we both know we can get guys out consistently at this level and we've proven it. It's just a matter of ironing things out and going out there consistently."

Broxton lost his closer's role after blowing a save last week in a disastrous 10-9 loss to Philadelphia. Torre couldn't, or wouldn't, say what it would take for him to earn it back, except that Broxton needs to string together a few nights like Tuesday.

"I thought he looked smoother to me," Torre said of his All-Star closer. "He has been working on it. I just think he has been trying to overthrow the ball. He just seemed like a little more of what we are used to seeing from him tonight."

Looking ahead

Hiroki Kuroda was brilliant in his most recent start, giving up only a solo home run over 7 innings Friday against the Braves. He also lost his 11th game of the year, as the Dodgers failed to score in a frustrating 1-0 loss to Atlanta. He'll take on Colorado's Jason Hammel (98-7, 4.42 ERA), who has won only two of his eight starts since the end of June. Kuroda is winless in five career starts against the Rockies (0-3, 7.57 ERA).

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

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