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03/19/12 8:30 PM ET

Kershaw-Santana battery is one that got away

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Clayton Kershaw, who used to pitch to Carlos Santana, pitched against the Indians' slugger for the first time Monday.

They're young stars now, the Dodgers' Cy Young winner and the Indians' cleanup switch-hitting catcher, and Kershaw got the best of him in a 4-3 loss with a strikeout and comebacker.

Five years ago they were batterymates at Class A Great Lakes, Kershaw a first-round draft pick and Santana an obscure former third baseman signed out of the Dominican Republic who was trying to become a catcher.

So when Kershaw hit his pitch count and was lifted in the sixth inning and Santana crushed reliever Javy Guerra's first pitch for a homer, you had to think of what kind of battery Kershaw/Santana could have been.

"There's a big difference in him now," Santana said of Kershaw. "He learned how to pitch. He only threw a fastball and curve then. Now he has a changeup and cutter or slider. He has command now."

Santana fanned with two on in the first inning. Later that frame, the Indians scored the only run Kershaw has allowed in 12 1/3 innings this spring.

Kershaw went 5 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and threw 78 pitches. He's likely to make two more exhibition starts before his Opening Day assignment in San Diego on April 5.

Kershaw spent only one-half season at Great Lakes and was promoted to Double-A. He remembers Santana (then having his worst offensive season) as a beginning catcher, less polished than one of Great Lakes' other catchers that year, Kenley Jansen. You know, the Dodgers reliever.

"Santana looks good behind the plate now," said Kershaw.

Santana had become one of the best hitting prospects in the farm system by summer 2008, when the Dodgers sent him to Cleveland so they could acquire third baseman Casey Blake without picking up any of Blake's remaining contract.

The Dodgers thought they were set behind the plate at the time with All-Star Russell Martin. Blake helped the Dodgers reach the playoffs, but the deal turned costly as Santana blossomed as a can't-miss power hitter.

Santana blew out his left knee in a 2010 plate collision, but he rebounded with 27 homers last year, the kind of power at his position the Dodgers haven't seen since Mike Piazza. The trade turned into the classic example of mortgaging the future to win immediately.

Every Santana home run is a bitter pill for Dodgers fans to swallow, but Santana doesn't regret it.

"That's in the past. It happened and everything is good for me," he said. "You can't control those things."

Speaking of control, Kershaw needed a few innings to get his Monday.

"The first two or three innings were pretty erratic," said Kershaw, who turned 24 Monday. "I had a little better rhythm toward the end. I was missing with the fastball and getting behind. I battled. I felt OK the last few innings.

"Physically I feel good. Pitching-wise, definitely need to get better with my fastball command and everything else will follow suit. It could be better, it could be worse."

Matt Treanor, signed to back up A.J. Ellis at catcher, caught Kershaw in an exhibition game for the first time, although he caught Kershaw's simulated game and one of his bullpens.

"He's the type of competitor, he's his own worst critic, he doesn't need anybody telling him what to do," said Treanor. "I try to limit what I tell him. He showed good stuff. I'm sure he wanted to execute a few of his pitchers. The biggest thing is the mental part of the game. He didn't let the first inning get to him. He competed with what he had today."

Don Mattingly issued the kind of postgame comment that's hard to argue with coming from the manager of the defending Cy Young winner.

"Kershaw is one of the last things I worry about, honestly," Mattingly said. "There's nothing he has to show us."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.