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09/03/08 2:45 AM ET
Kershaw, hot bats trim West deficit
Dodgers close gap on D-backs by taking down Padres
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- It sounded a little wimpy this Spring, the Dodgers telling strapping 6-3, 220-pound Clayton Kershaw he would get the kid-glove treatment and have his innings rationed. But the 20-year-old took a shutout into the seventh inning on Tuesday night and pitched into the eighth, and that was the whole point -- management wanted Kershaw to have some bullets left for the pennant race, and so he has. He also had some runs to work with, as the Dodgers slugged three homers in an 8-4 win over the Padres that extended their win streak to four games and trimmed Arizona's lead to 1 1/2 games in the National League West. Manny Ramirez, Blake DeWitt and Andre Ethier went deep, Ethier also scoring four runs and falling a double shy of the first Dodgers cycle in 38 years (Wes Parker). Ethier leads the team with 19 home runs, eight in his last 18 games. Kershaw flirted with a little history, too. He took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and a shutout into the seventh. No younger Dodger has ever thrown a no-hitter and Fernando Valenzuela was the last Dodger younger than Kershaw to throw a shutout. He also tied the Los Angeles record with three sacrifice bunts, the first Dodger to do it since Tom Candiotti in 1993. Juan Pierre, in a rare start in place of Matt Kemp, left the game with back spasms suffered while taking an awkward swing during a seventh-inning at-bat. He will be reevaluated on Wednesday, when the Dodgers also will add to the roster a third catcher, A.J. Ellis. Kershaw pitched better than his final line -- seven innings, three runs -- appeared. Manager Joe Torre sent him out for the eighth inning with an 8-1 lead and he walked the first two batters. Ramon Troncoso relieved, and Kershaw's two runners scored. He's 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA in 86 Major League innings and 2-3 with a 1.91 ERA in 61 1/3 innings at Double-A Jacksonville. That's 147 1/3 innings. The plan coming out of Spring Training was to limit Kershaw to 25 innings a month. He's ahead of that schedule now but figures if he keeps pitching as he did in this game, nobody would dare shut him down. "I don't see that happening if I pitch well," he said. "My arm feels great. I can take the ball every fifth day and go as deep as I can. I feel healthy." The reason for the rationing: Not only is he 20, but he pitched only 122 innings last year, and the year before that he was in high school. A six- or seven-month season approaching 200 innings would be too much too soon. "You see his stuff, it's off the charts, but you've got to understand we were concerned with everything about him," said pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. "We wouldn't endanger his arm or his future for us. We tried to do what's right for the team and for him. "That was the plan, to limit him to 25 innings a month. Whether he was in the Minors or the Majors, we wanted the spacing so when he came up he wouldn't have used up his innings early. But give him credit. He's accomplished every challenge we've given him. He might have been disappointed when we sent him down (July 2, for three weeks), but he worked on the things he needed to work on." That would be primarily his offspeed pitches, and the improvement was evident against the Padres, as he continued to mix in an effective changeup with a 94-mph fastball and an over-the-top curveball that contributed to six strikeouts. "It's tough when there's that big a deferential," said San Diego outfielder Chase Headley, whose fifth-inning single broke up the no-hitter. "He was throwing 93-94, but when you go from that to a 75-mph curveball, that's going to make it tough on hitters." Kershaw said he owed an assist in this game to an unsolicited training-room tip from fellow starter Derek Lowe. "I was practicing my motion and he saw me and said I need to bring my front leg back a little," said Kershaw. "I have a tendency to fly open and he saw that I was bringing the leg straight up. When I took it back like he said, it kept my weight back. I turned my hip just a little and I noticed the difference from my last start. It was a big tip for me." This was Kershaw's first win since Aug. 7. He lost his last two starts, allowing 11 runs in 6 1/3 innings.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.