Kershaw's short outing leads to loss
Young lefty lasts just four-plus innings against White Sox
LOS ANGELES -- Seven starts into his Major League career, a 20-year-old Fernando Valenzuela was 7-0 with six complete-game shutouts, en route to an unprecedented Cy Young/Rookie of the Year combo.
Sandy Koufax, a 20-year-old bonus-baby swingman when he arrived, won three of his first seven starts, two of them complete-game shutouts, en route to the Hall of Fame.
That's how high the bar is set for Clayton Kershaw, the latest 20-year-old left-hander the Dodgers have rushed to the Major Leagues.
Valenzuela and Koufax broke in on championship clubs and Kershaw's supporting cast is nothing like that, which was apparent again Thursday, when Kershaw remained winless while his teammates went scoreless in a 2-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Kershaw was removed after issuing his fourth walk (one intentionally) without retiring a batter in the fifth inning, the two runs he allowed having reached base on leadoff walks. He escaped jams each of the four previous innings, three times with double plays by his defense.
While Eric Stults is a surprising 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA, Kershaw is 0-2 with a 4.36 ERA. In 33 innings, he has 29 strikeouts, but also an alarming 22 walks. Eight of the 16 runs he's allowed reached base via walks.
He's averaging fewer than five innings a start, meaning the bullpen gets a workout every time. Each game, he seems to struggle with at least one of his three pitches. On Thursday, he was bouncing his changeups.
Management is walking the fine line and knows it. He hasn't been great or awful. He's getting by on sheer talent, but struggles because he still has so much to learn.
"Reminds me of Jeff Francis in 2005, only Clayton has better stuff," said catcher Danny Ardoin, who caught Francis in Colorado and Kershaw on Thursday. "It's not like Clayton's getting blown off the field. He's competitive and does a good job of damage control when he gets in trouble. His leadoff walks seem to score every time. He's in a growing stage. He seems to get caught up in the moment sometimes and overthrows when he really needs to make a pitch. But he's only two years out of high school. He's holding his own, he really is."
But is he helping his career with four-inning starts or hurting it?
"If you think he's losing his grip or stops progressing [it could hurt him], but he's moving forward," said manager Joe Torre. "His first and foremost concern is, how is it affecting him? Right now, I don't necessarily see him going backward in the quality of his starts. There's progress each time, sometimes it's subtle. I don't see him being lost or not handling the situation."
Kershaw was critical of his performance, but insistent that his spirit hasn't been broken.
"I'm not discouraged," he said. "I know I can do it. I got through some tough spots. It could have been worse. I'm not bringing my stuff in from the bullpen into the game. The work between starts is not showing up. Every game I'm learning something, but maybe it doesn't show up in the results. Practically all the time there's guys on base and that wears on you. Every pitch is important. I need some quick innings.
"I've adjusted fine. I don't think this has anything to do with where I pitch. If you execute, you get people out. Pitching in Double-A or Triple-A, it's the same thing. I'm going through a tough spot. It's happened before. Last year at Midland, I was giving up four or five runs a game for a month. I'll be fine."
"Today, I thought he was fine," Torre said. "He allowed two runs, that's a winnable game. He walked a couple guys, but it's all magnified when we don't score runs."
Kershaw might as well get used to pitching under the magnifying glass, because the Dodgers don't score runs. This was the 24th time in 79 games they scored fewer than two runs, the seventh time they were shut out and third time in the last 13 games.
The tone was set in the first inning when Juan Pierre received a reprieve after White Sox catcher Toby Hall dropped his foul popup. Pierre then singled, stole second, Matt Kemp walked and a double-steal put runners on second and third with no outs with Russell Martin, James Loney and Andy LaRoche due up.
"We had it where we wanted it," said Torre. "We just didn't produce."
Martin fouled out, Loney lined out and LaRoche -- starting at second base to give Jeff Kent a day off -- flied out. The Dodgers had runners on base the next six innings without scoring, three times wiping out rallies with double plays.
"We didn't do much threatening," said Torre.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.