That's when the Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander dipped into his arsenal and found other stuff that worked.
Kershaw retired 13 of his last 14 batters on the way to his 17th victory, a 4-1 win Monday night.
"As the game gets later, he's actually pitching more, using all of his pitches," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "That's the sign of a total pitcher.
"What I think is great about him is he's a lot like Fernando (Valenzuela). Whether he's won or lost, he's the same person, very consistent in what he does."
Kershaw (17-5) won for the ninth time in his last 10 starts, allowing one run and six hits. The All-Star struck out five to reach a career-high of 212 and walked two, becoming the first Dodger to win 17 games since Chan Ho Park in 2000.
"It's great," he said.
"The sixth, seventh, eighth (innings) I kind of got in rhythm and had some quicker innings. The defense really picked me up (three double plays) and getting some runs early was awesome."
It was Kershaw's fifth complete game this season and sixth of the 22-year-old's career.
"The kid's got electric stuff," former Dodger and current Padre Orlando Hudson said. "He's got a blazing fastball, a good slider and a good changeup. He causes you to swing at bad pitches."
The Dodgers haven't had a 20-game winner since Ramon Martinez went 20-6 in 1990.
"That's startling," Kershaw said.
His name is coming up in talk about the possible NL Cy Young Award winner, but Kershaw shrugs it off.
"It's nice to be mentioned, but at the same time, I have got five games left and a lot can happen," he said. "I don't have personal goals. It's limiting. You never know what you can do. Season over, that's the time for reflection."
Kershaw has been one of the few bright spots in a losing season for the bankrupt Dodgers.
"Clayton is as good as anybody out there," manager Don Mattingly said. "He's been that guy all year long."
Andre Ethier had three hits and an RBI after sitting out a game with a sore knee and James Loney hit a two-run homer for the Dodgers, who won for the sixth time in their last seven games and clinched their first winning month of the season at 15-11.
Mat Latos (6-13) gave up five hits and four runs in six innings, struck out five and walked four in losing to the Dodgers for the third time this season. He's 1-5 in his last 11 starts.
The last-place Padres dropped their fifth consecutive game, with their lone run in the fourth on Nick Hundley's RBI double.
"The thing I saw as the game went on was that he (Kershaw) started incorporating his curve ball and changeup more," Padres manager Bud Black said. "So he had four pitches the latter part of the game. We had a couple of chances to get the big hit, but just couldn't get it."
Ethier was held out of Sunday's game because of a sore right knee that will require surgery, but apparently not until after the season. The All-Star right fielder implied in comments published in the Los Angeles Times Sunday that he didn't want to finish out the season.
He declined to discuss the situation with reporters Monday, when Mattingly said Ethier has not told him that he wants to end the season early.
Ethier's RBI single in the first gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
Loney hit his ninth homer in the third, a two-run shot into the right field pavilion on a 1-0 count from Latos that extended the lead to 3-0.
"It was a fastball away. He cheated on it like he knew we would pitch him away, got his hands ready, got to the ball, got his hands extended on it, got the barrel through the zone and got the bat head on it," Latos said.
The Dodgers added a run in the fourth on Rod Barajas' sacrifice fly.
The Padres are 1-5 on their current eight-game trip, and they are 4-9 against LA this season. ... Loney has driven in a run in six straight games. ... Drew Drysdale, 18-year-old daughter of the late Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale, sang the national anthem and returned to do "God Bless America" wearing her father's No. 53 jersey.