Kershaw already impressing fellow ace Greinke
Dodgers lefty praised as 'complete pitcher' before his third Opening Day start
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It takes one to know one.
So who better to present a scouting report on Clayton Kershaw (about to become a three-time Opening Day starting pitcher) than new teammate Zack Greinke (himself a former Opening Day starter)?
They are the new-school version of Koufax-Drysdale and Valenzuela-Hershiser, lefty-righty Cy Young-winning tandem aces atop the Dodgers' rotation. Kershaw gets the ball Monday against the Giants in Los Angeles at 1:10 p.m. PT. Greinke would have followed him in Game 2, but elbow soreness forced a rotation shuffle and he'll start April 5 against the Pirates.
W: Kershaw L: Kontos
Greinke is a keen student of the game. He was often squatting behind the Spring Training mounds, watching as his fellow pitchers threw bullpen sessions. Here's what he's seen of Kershaw over the last six weeks:
"I haven't seen that much, but his fastball is special," Greinke said. "His fastball, hitters have to cheat for it. If they sit on another pitch, they won't be able to hit the fastball. That's important to get strikeouts. You can't sit on the offspeed and fight off that fastball. He just has an ability that's huge. Then he's got the nasty slider. No way a hitter can legitimately be on both of them. That's how he strikes out over 200.
"You can't steal off him. He's got endurance. He's a workhorse. So, to me, he's pretty much the complete pitcher. I don't know how good his command is compared to me or someone else because I haven't seen him enough. But his stuff, you could actually tell a guy what's coming and it might not matter.
"His delivery, maybe that little hitch helps. You can't put a number on how much it helps. It's deceptive, but maybe not to every hitter. It could be minimal, I'd just be guessing, but I'm sure it bothers some guys.
"The slider, that's where the strikeouts come from, and with strikeouts come higher pitch counts. That pitch is what I'm talking about when I say you could tell a hitter what's coming. The combination of his fastball and slider are so nasty. You could watch him for five starts and it's still hard to recognize the difference in those pitches.
"Personally, he's a normal guy. Doesn't act like a big-time guy, doesn't act like he's better than any other people. Just seems like a normal guy, which is kind of good. The only thing I had heard about him before I got here was from Randy Wolf, who said he liked him, that he was a good guy, so that's what I expected."
The Kershaw slider to which Greinke referred was self-taught out of necessity.
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt recalled a turning point in the 2009 season. In his seventh start of the year, Kershaw was roughed up in Philadelphia, the loss dropping his record to 1-3 and raising his ERA to 5.21. Honeycutt, then-manager Joe Torre and then-hitting coach Don Mattingly called Kershaw in for a meeting.
Los Angeles Dodgers
|Projected Opening Day lineup|
"It had become a battle for him," Honeycutt recalled. "Before that meeting I talked to Donnie, asked him to look at a few games. Donnie said if he was coaching opposing hitters, he'd tell them to spit on all the offspeed stuff and look for the fastball. I wanted Clayton to hear that from a hitter's perspective, what the scouts were telling the hitters to do against him, so he would understand what was happening and what he had to change.
"He wasn't consistently throwing strikes. His breaking ball was not finishing high enough to get called strikes, and he was missing down and away to left-handers. So, I brought that info to Joe and we put our heads together to find the best way to adjust. The talent was there."
Here's how Kershaw responded:
"My first two years I was called into the principal's office too many times. They told me to pitch better or get shipped out, in so many words. I finally got less stubborn and figured it was time to figure something out, rather than just go with what I had."
Kershaw essentially taught himself the slider in a bullpen session two days after the Philly debacle.
"He tried it in the bullpen at Wrigley Field and took it right into his next start," said A.J. Ellis, who caught that breakthrough session. "That pitch took him from a really good pitcher to a great pitcher."
This won't be the first time that Greinke -- signed to a $147 million contract as the big fish in the free-agent market -- formed a tandem of aces. With the Brewers, he and Yovani Gallardo presented a solid 1-2 duo. Last summer he was traded to the Angels, joining Jered Weaver in an ill-fated pennant bid.
"Going into this, I still think Kershaw is the guy until I or someone else can match," Greinke said. "Weaver was the No. 1 guy there and I thought he out-pitched me. The first month, I didn't deserve to be mentioned with him. So as of now, Kershaw is No. 1.
"And obviously, if you have two of us pitching well, that's ideal. It's what the Dodgers are hoping for, rooting for and it would be fun. The righty-lefty combination, that's what we should be the whole season. I remember talking to people before last year, that if the Dodgers were trying to build a team, getting another top pitcher would be a good place to start."
And so they have. As previously mentioned, this is the third time Kershaw has had to block out the carnival atmosphere of an Opening Day and take the mound. In 2011 at Dodger Stadium, Kershaw opened by out-pitching Tim Lincecum in a 2-1 Dodgers win over the Giants. And in 2012 at Petco Park, Kershaw battled the flu for three scoreless innings before finally retreating to the trainer's room while the Dodgers went on to beat the Padres, 5-3.
Kershaw was 2-3 against the Giants last year with a 1.62 ERA and is 8-4 with a 1.37 for his career. He was 9-5 with a 2.05 ERA at Dodger Stadium. Hunter Pence is 1-for-23 lifetime against Kershaw and Buster Posey is 6-for-33.
A year ago, Kershaw was coming off a Cy Young season. Not the case this time. Last year, he finished second in the voting.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.