Improved mechanics allowed Carpenter to go after hitters instead of trying to trick them. He was in command, allowing four hits in eight innings of the St. Louis Cardinals' 7-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday night.
"I definitely felt better," Carpenter said. "I've still got some work to do, but no question it was way better than it's felt the last two times."
Rookie Allen Craig got the first two RBIs of his career without a hit off Kershaw (9-5), who dug his own hole with consecutive walks on 11 pitches to start the Cardinals' two-run first, meriting a quick visit from pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. Kershaw also got tagged with a liner off his right leg for an infield hit by Aaron Miles in the second and allowed four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings with one strikeout.
"Just a rough night," Kershaw said. "You saw it, I made some all right pitches. I was out of rhythm early."
Kershaw fanned 12 in his last pre-All-Star break outing a week ago in a victory over the Chicago Cubs but faltered mostly due to a lack of control against a lineup that featured eight right-handed bats.
"No command," manager Joe Torre said. "His breaking ball had no sharpness to it. He hadn't pitched in a week, you've got to chalk it up to that."
The lone left-handed hitting starter, Colby Rasmus, walked and doubled in three at-bats against Kershaw.
"He's aggressive and I'm aggressive, so it's a good matchup," Rasmus said.
Andre Ethier homered and singled for the Dodgers, who committed errors on consecutive plays in St. Louis' two-run fourth.
Carpenter (10-3) and the San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum were the only two National League pitchers not used in the All-Star Game, by arrangement because both had starts scheduled for Thursday. The right-hander looked much sharper than in a pair of losses before the break in which he permitted 11 runs in nine innings. He retired the first seven batters to open the game and eight in a row after Ethier's 15th homer with one out in the fourth.
"That's six days' rest, and he was strong," manager Tony La Russa said. "He was nails all night long."
Carpenter struck out six with no walks. He's 6-0 with a 1.77 ERA against the Dodgers, including seven scoreless innings June 8 at Los Angeles without a decision, and 19-4 against the NL West.
Two of Albert Pujols' three hits came off Kershaw, who allowed one run in 15 innings in two previous starts in St. Louis. Counting a first-round playoff sweep last October, St. Louis had lost six in a row to the Dodgers.
Manny Ramirez was 0-for-3 with a fielding error in left after being activated from the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day. Ramirez misplayed the bounce on Yadier Molina's single to open the fourth and shortstop Rafael Furcal followed with a wild relay to the plate on Miles' RBI single as the Cardinals took a 4-1 lead.
Plenty of cushion for Carpenter.
"He's so good," Torre said. "He knows what to do with the lead. He frustrates you because he can pitch in and around the strike zone and he can throw a strike anytime he wants."
Rookie Jon Jay, a defensive replacement in right field in the sixth inning, had an RBI double in the seventh to extend his hitting streak to 12 games. He's batting .500 (19-for-38) during the longest current streak in the league.
Felipe Lopez had been 0-for-13 against Kershaw before his RBI double in the fourth. Craig, recalled from Triple-A Memphis earlier in the day, had a run-scoring groundout and sacrifice fly.
Kershaw failed to qualify for a victory for only the third time in 19 starts. He had allowed two or fewer runs in nine of his previous 12 outings. ... Carpenter hasn't lost three straight decisions since 2002, when he lost four in a row with the Toronto Blue Jays. ... Carpenter has allowed 15 homers, 11 with the bases empty, after surrendering seven all last season. ... The Cardinals are 12-3 against the Dodgers at 5-year-old Busch Stadium.