Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, and has been the best in the National League for three years. He’s headed toward Randy Johnson and Warren Spahn territory, to a very real conversation about whether he will be the best left-handed starting pitcher ever.
Thus far, though, Kershaw doesn’t have a terribly clear and shiny moment that helps frame and define his career. If he were to die tomorrow, and was elected to the Hall of Fame by special election, the reel they might cobble together would include an Opening Day gem against the Giants, in which he homered for the only run; his sparkling Game 1 effort in this series; and a whole bunch of batters swinging and missing. There wouldn’t me a mound celebration. There wouldn’t be a stern game face giving way to a thousand-watt smile. There wouldn’t be any final pitches, thrown with Dodger Stadium filled to bursting and the fans there howling.
Kershaw gets his first chance to change that tonight. In a bold and interesting move, the Dodgers have chosen to slide Kershaw—fresh off 124 pitches thrown Thursday night in Atlanta—in on short rest for Game 4 against the Atlanta Braves. I understand why they did so, but it’s a bad idea.
Ricky Nolasco had been on the docket for the day. That was a bad matchup, and kudos to Los Angeles for recognizing that, I guess. Nolasco is a fly-ball pitcher and the Braves, with their heavy reliance on home runs, aren’t kind to fly-ball guys. Furthermore, Nolasco is right-handed, and the three guys you have to make sure to contain when working through the Atlanta order are Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann—all left-handed.
Matchups aside, Kershaw also gives the Dodgers a much better chance to win, and by using him now, they haven’t simply switched the order in which they must send their guys to the mound. If the series goes to a fifth game, they’ll be able to bring Game 2 starter Zack Greinke back on full rest, thanks to the protracted Division Series schedule. That’s valuable. So is not having to go back to Atlanta, or use Greinke at all, which will be the happy outcome if Kershaw can beat the Braves tonight.
That said, this move seems to me to come from a place of fear. The Dodgers beat the Braves with Kershaw on the mound, in Atlanta, just last week, but seem to lack confidence that they could do it again if necessary. In order to try to avoid that winner-take-all situation, they’re taking the possibility of not having to use Kershaw until Game 1 of the NLCS off the table. Greinke isn’t a much lesser option, and could still start Game 1 if Kershaw knocks out Atlanta, but I would have been looking for a way to keep Kershaw in line to pitch to open the NLCS.
All that, plus this: Kershaw has never pitched on three days’ rest before, as he now will tonight. He’s starting on short rest for the first time, coming off more pitches thrown in a single game than he had thrown since mid-May. Two of his seven innings that night were pitched after the game had gotten away from the Braves. If there was any chance the Dodgers were going to ask him to do this, it’s bizarre and beyond excuse for Don Mattingly to have let Kershaw use that many bullets.
I don’t want to make a habit of doubting Kershaw’s powers. He’s a generational talent. He makes Sandy Koufax look like a mid-rotation starter. Still, asking him to do something he has never done before, when he is seemingly so ill-prepared. and when the stakes are so high, seems wrong to me. Nonetheless, it adds some heavy spice to the narrative around the game, and should make for one Hell of a game. We’ll see what happens.Next post: An Instructive and Delightful Final Full Day of Baseball
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