Kershaw promoted to big league camp
Young phenom may have shot a winning fifth-starter job
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Dodgers manager Joe Torre caught himself in mid-sentence, realizing that comparing Clayton Kershaw to Sandy Koufax is exactly what he didn't want to do.
But Torre couldn't help himself.
When a phenom arrives, these things happen. Kershaw is playing the part. He mowed through Major League hitters Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew and Sean Casey in a perfect 10-pitch inning on Sunday, after which Torre acknowledged that the teenager (he turns 20 on March 19) had been promoted from Minor League camp and into the Major League clubhouse for the rest of Spring Training -- and who knows how long after that?
Only hours earlier, Torre was saying he was "about as close to 100 percent without being 100 percent" sure that Kershaw would not be in his starting rotation when the season opens in three weeks. He cited the rocky history of touted young pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior as cautionary examples and left only slight wiggle room to change his position "if everything else fell into place."
But the buzz Kershaw has created with his 97-mph fastball and jaw-dropping curveball already had teammates raving. Then Torre watched another inning and joined in Clayton-mania.
"That was pretty good, wasn't it?" Torre asked, knowing the answer.
He said the Dodgers were "not really looking at that" when asked if Kershaw was competing for the fifth-starter spot, although Torre didn't say no, either. He said the No. 1 priority is Kershaw's "well-being," but acknowledged that "you never know for sure the best way to proceed."
Meaning, if a young player is special enough, there's no such thing as rushing him. Torre even used the word "special" to describe Kershaw's curveball. He talked about Kershaw facing "a pretty good part" of a World Series championship lineup with a two-pitch repertoire. While discussing a still-developing changeup Kershaw throws to right-handed hitters, Torre couldn't help but draw a reference to the greatest Dodgers left-hander of them all who, coincidentally, spent part of this game in the clubhouse talking pitching with Scott Proctor.
"There was a left-handed pitcher in this organization with only a fastball and curve and he was pretty good," said Torre. "But I don't want to put that kind of pressure on him. He's not too far away from the changeup. He's got it; it's a matter of locating it."
Yes, Kershaw's got it. He's also got the clubhouse sensing that an impact player has arrived. Catcher Russell Martin has already said Kershaw throws the best curveball he's caught.
"He's really good, man," said Martin.
Kershaw would give the Dodgers a left-hander in an otherwise all-right-handed starting rotation. It's hard to find a current Dodgers player who watches Kershaw and doesn't believe he's ready for the Major Leagues.
"I wish you could see a video of what I saw from center field," said Matt Kemp, who made his spring debut in center field Sunday. "He throws that curveball so hard and it snaps 12 to six like you've never seen."
Kershaw not only has the poise to pitch to Major Leaguers, but he handles postgame interviews flawlessly.
"I'm not going to worry about that stuff," he said when asked if he felt he was competing for a job. "So far, I'm having a lot of fun in two outings, and hopefully there's a lot more to come."
He said he's trying not to get caught up in the hype, and he's had practice, because there's been a buzz about the former first-round Draft pick since high school. What he wasn't doing in high school was facing World Series stars. Lowell popped up, Drew broke his bat on a groundout and Casey was caught looking at a wicked curve.
"I knew Lowell was the first hitter," he said. "But after that, I just saw two lefties. I might have gotten in trouble if I saw guys I watched my whole life. I just see a lefty or righty. Obviously, I'm aware of who they are, but I try not to think about it."
Kershaw, who struck out the side after allowing a home run in his first game action five days earlier, said he's throwing more strikes this spring than last season because he's slowed down his delivery.
Torre was told that Red Sox manager Terry Francona told Boston reporters he wouldn't mind having Kershaw in a Sox uniform.
"Tell him that's tampering and we'll report it to the Commissioner's Office," Torre said.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.