Kershaw unravels in Dodgers' loss
Lefty struggles with command in shortest start of season
LOS ANGELES -- Seven of the pitchers drafted in the first round Tuesday are already older than Clayton Kershaw, but none of them was pitching in the Major Leagues Wednesday night.
Kershaw did, and the results were a reminder that a whole lot is expected from this 21-year-old, who couldn't get out of the third inning for the Dodgers in a 3-1 defeat to the Padres that ended a 5-4 homestand.
After a tough-luck, 34-pitch first inning, Kershaw completely unraveled in the third inning. Although only one run scored, Kershaw issued a pair of two-out walks and went 2-0 to opposing pitcher Kevin Correia when manager Joe Torre pulled the plug, sensing from Kershaw's body language that his frustration had reached the limit.
"It's something he has to deal with, and he will," said Torre. "He just had trouble throwing strikes. And it just appeared at times that he would just try to throw the ball harder."
Torre was asked if Kershaw was at the point where struggling in the Major Leagues was doing the left-hander more harm than good.
"I don't think so," he said. "He's got a lot of confidence in his ability. But I'm sure he's also wondering why he hasn't gotten better, sooner. That comes with being young. It's all about being able to locate consistently. It'll come. He has to keep going out there and eventually he'll get the feel on a regular basis."
Kershaw's undoing started with a one-out double by Kevin Kouzmanoff, followed by an RBI single from Chase Headley. Edgar Gonzalez lined to left, then Kershaw walked Henry Blanco and Josh Wilson. Kershaw's frustration showed and catcher Russell Martin went to the mound to settle his pitcher, but he immediately went to 2-0 to Correia and Torre brought in Jeff Weaver, who battled back to strike out Correia, the beginning of 6 1/3 scoreless innings from the bullpen.
"Yeah, I'm concerned," conceded Torre. "He has to stop and look and take some time and don't lose your heart. He's a fighter."
Kershaw rejected all the excuses offered up. He refused to blame plate umpire Jim Reynolds for squeezing him on pitches or first-base umpire Angel Campos for missing a call at first base on Kouzmanoff's slow grounder to shortstop Rafael Furcal that led to the second run in the first inning.
"That's all just part of this being one of those nights," he said. "If it was just that, you'd tip your hat to the other team. But the walks [four] in between being inconsistent around the strike zone kills you and gets the pitch count  up and that did me in for the night. You just own up to it -- I didn't pitch well."
Nor would Kershaw use his age or inexperience as an excuse.
"This is frustrating no matter what age you are," he said. "No one looks at you like you're a young guy. People expect you to get people out. I'm fortunate to be where I am and I still have a lot to prove. The being young thing only works so long. I've taken my licks. It would feel nice to start pitching well."
Kershaw said he couldn't blame Torre for getting him.
"You saw how I pitched," he said. "He's been very patient with me. It's great to have that in a manager. Sometimes you'd like not to need patience and just pitch well."
Being a 2006 first-round Draft pick, Kershaw said he's tried to balance the confidence to succeed with the reality of the challenge.
"From a confidence standpoint, you have to feel you can pitch well every time out," he said. "But you'd be pretty naive to say you expect to pitch well every time out in the big leagues. It's a Catch-22 when you think about it. It sounds cocky to say you'll always do well, and at the same time you have to have that confidence. It's a fine line, I guess."
Kershaw is 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA. In 12 starts, he's gone seven innings three times and this is the first time he's been unable to get five innings since April 26.
On the flip side, Correia, pitching on three days' rest, allowed a first-inning run (Andre Ethier singling home Juan Pierre), then nobody past second base over the next five innings, retiring the final 15 batters he faced and leaving after six innings without issuing a walk. Heath Bell recorded his Major League-leading 18th save.
Torre tried to preempt Bell's arrival with aggressive strategy in the seventh inning, the Dodgers greeting reliever Greg Burke by putting runners on first and second. But after Rafael Furcal struck out, Torre rolled the dice and put the runners in motion on a 3-2 pitch to Matt Kemp, who struck out, with Casey Blake thrown out at third on an inning-ending double play.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.