LOS ANGELES -- Don Mattingly has a multiyear contract to prove whether or not he can manage, but he looks pretty smart with his first decision, naming Clayton Kershaw the Dodgers' Opening Day starter.
Kershaw outpitched double Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum on Thursday and the Dodgers held on to beat the defending World Series champion Giants, 2-1, giving the rookie manager a debut win as his 23-year-old starter drew the raves of a staff ace.
"He's now up there with the best in baseball," said catcher Rod Barajas. "He's got the whole package. He's got some kind of gift."
Kershaw, told by Mattingly on the last day of the 2010 season that he'd draw this assignment, struck out nine in seven scoreless innings while allowing four hits and only one walk. At 23 he's the youngest Dodgers Opening Day starter since Fernando Valenzuela in 1983, and the nine strikeouts were the most by a Dodger on Opening Day since Valenzuela's nine in 1986.
He struck out the side in the first inning, overcoming a Rafael Furcal throwing error. The Giants realized he had his command and changed strategy from trying to run up his pitch count to putting the ball in play earlier in at-bats. He turned a possible mess in the sixth inning into another zero with a double-play grounder from Aubrey Huff.
"It was fun tonight," said Kershaw. "I had a blast. It was a good way to start the season -- a great atmosphere, a sellout, Opening Day, a fun time to compete. They're the team to beat, I guess. But a win is a win, as far as I'm concerned."
Lincecum nearly matched Kershaw (seven innings, one unearned run), but the Giants threw the ball around a little too much, errors by shortstop Miguel Tejada and catcher Buster Posey leading to a sixth-inning run. The Dodgers added a crucial insurance run in the eighth when Matt Kemp, with his third walk of the night, stole second and was doubled home by James Loney.
"I didn't swing at bad pitches," said Kemp, who had a single, three walks, one steal and two runs scored. "I was patient. That's one of 162. We made things happen, took advantage of Giants mistakes and got the 'W.'"
Mattingly lifted Kershaw after 96 pitches, 65 of them strikes. There will be times to push the pitch count in search of a shutout, but not in March.
"I asked if he was serious -- no, just kidding," Kershaw joked when asked if he had a vote in his removal.
Hong-Chih Kuo followed and overcame six consecutive balls to open the eighth inning and retired the next three hitters. Jonathan Broxton, trying to rebound from a second-half collapse last year, got the save despite allowing a solo home run by Pat Burrell (4-for-7 with two homers lifetime off Broxton).
As bad as that sounds, Broxton seemed to be throwing much better than last year, with one fastball clocked at 99 mph and his slider consistently at 90 and breaking sharply.
It took two of the Giants' three errors for the Dodgers to score their first run and it came in the sixth inning. They loaded the bases on a one-out walk to Kemp, a throwing error by Tejada on Loney's double-play ball and a 92-mph fastball by Lincecum that hit former teammate Juan Uribe in the left elbow.
Lincecum's 0-1 pitch to Barajas was in the dirt and blocked by Posey, who saw Kemp backpeddle toward third then turn his back to the plate as he returned to the base. Posey tried to pick off Kemp, but his throw was on the foul side of the bag and third baseman Pablo Sandoval couldn't reach through Kemp to glove it.
"I just thought, especiallly with the ball in the dirt, I might have had a chance of catching him with his head down," said Posey. "I just made a bad throw. It's that simple."
Kemp scored as the ball rolled into foul territory.
"I saw Pablo's eyes and knew there was a throw, but I was on the bag before it got there," said Kemp. "I didn't know what was going on, but I'll take it."
The Giants threatened in the fifth. With one out, Kershaw walked rookie Brandon Belt on a 3-2 pitch and he went to second when Sandoval dropped a bloop single beyond the reach of Loney in shallow right field. Lincecum bunted into a forceout, Uribe making a nice play to get the out at second base. Sandoval broke up the double play with a hard slide into Furcal, but Uribe's play kept the force in order for the next batter, Andres Torres, who complied with a one-hopper to Furcal to end the inning.
"That might be a play that nobody notices," Barajas said of Uribe's charging the bunt, "but we did the little things to win."
The Dodgers were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine runners.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.