LOS ANGELES — It’s just one three-time Cy Young Award-winning future Hall of Famer after another for the Dodgers now.
In his first start since July 3, Clayton Kershaw rejoined the Dodgers’ starting rotation by allowing just one run and pitching into the fifth inning of an eventual 5-1 Dodgers victory Monday night at Dodger Stadium.
Kershaw gave up four hits and a walk in his 4-1/3 innings, striking out five and throwing 50 pitches (short of the targeted total of 60 in his first start in two months – but he was only expected to pitch four innings).
“There’s not a lot of better feelings in the world than getting to pitch here and getting a win,” he said after his 193rd career start at Dodger Stadium. “It’s a special thing. I missed it. It was good to be back. We got a win today and everything worked out.”
A three-inning rehab start last week in Triple-A left Kershaw predictably dissatisfied – he said he told catcher Austin Barnes that he spent “the past two months trying to get healthy. Now I’ve got four or five days to learn how to pitch again.”
“There’s just no way to simulate a big-league game. There’s really not,” he said Monday. “You can do all the bullpens, all the rehabs, all the working out you want. But for whatever reason, pitching in a big-league game is just different and the only way to do it and to get better at it is to do it, to go out and compete. So I’m glad I got this first one behind me.”
He appears to have been a quick study. The first inning didn’t go particularly well. Three of the first five Diamondbacks hitters reached base on a double, a walk and an RBI single. But Kershaw struck out Henry Ramos to end the inning.
Starting with Ramos, Kershaw retired 11 of the final 13 batters he was allowed to face. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Kershaw after he had gone through the Diamondbacks’ lineup twice, retiring one batter in the fifth inning.
“I think there’s still some things I need to work on pitching-wise,” Kershaw said. “Today, it was good to get back out there. But at the same time, we’re in a race so there’s not a lot of time to work the kinks out. For me, I was throwing a lot more curveballs today than I probably had in the past, but that just seemed to be what was working. Gotta get that slider working. Fastball too was okay at times. But there’s definitely some things I need to work on.”
The familiar sight of Kershaw on the mound at Dodger Stadium brought “a lot of positive energy” to the team, Roberts said.
“It was awesome. So good to see him back out there, taking the ball,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “We talked before the game, how hard it is for him not to be able to go out there and compete every fifth day. We’re all excited to see him back out there.
“Kersh is our guy. He’s our leader. When he takes the ball, we know we’ve got a really good chance to win a ballgame. That was special.”
The Dodgers topped the Diamondbacks’ first-inning run with three of their own against Zac Gallen.
Four of the first five Dodgers batters reached base, starting with a double by Mookie Betts (who is now 7 for 16 with a double, two home runs, six RBIs and six runs scored since moving back into the leadoff spot last week).
Corey Seager drove in the first run with an RBI single then scored from first base on Justin Turner’s two-run double into the left field corner.
Gallen got out of that and stranded two runners in the second. The Diamondbacks right-hander threw 52 pitches to get through those two innings and it didn’t look like he would be around for long.
But the Dodgers couldn’t land a knockout blow and Gallen pitched into the sixth inning.
The Dodgers nearly got to him again in the fourth inning when Gavin Lux and Barnes led off with back-to-back singles. After a sacrifice bunt by Kershaw, Betts sent a fly ball into shallow right field. Lux tagged and headed home, arriving in sync with the throw from right fielder Jake McCarthy.
Originally called safe, Lux was ruled out after a lengthy replay review (approximately 2½ minutes) overturned the call.
The Dodgers finally scored again in the sixth inning, driving Gallen from the game. Barnes did the damage with an RBI double.
Justin Turner made his a three-RBI night with a solo home run in the seventh inning. After going 84 plate appearances between home runs, Turner now has four in his past 24 at-bats.
“Just putting in the work,” said Turner, whose only hits were home runs in that time. “I feel like I kind of got my timing back. I feel like I was late there for awhile.”
The first-place San Francisco Giants won their eighth consecutive game Monday, clinching a playoff berth for the first time since 2016 and keeping the Dodgers 2½ games back in the NL West with 17 to play in the regular season.
“I’m thankful,” Kershaw said of getting back in action. “I didn’t really know what it was going to look like at the end of this season. So for me to be a part of it is huge. I will never take that for granted ever – to be in a playoff race, to be a part of it. And it’s a good one right now. The Giants aren’t losing. They’re not making it easy for us. It’s going to be fun.”
“There’s not a lot of better feelings in the world than getting to pitch here and getting a win. It’s a special thing. I missed it. It was good to be back.” @ClaytonKersh22 on his first outing back from the IL. pic.twitter.com/VLY5ohZQ3O
— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) September 14, 2021
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