The Dodgers beat the Rockies 6-1 on Sunday at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, but as is usually the case in spring training the results don't matter as much as the preparation and getting ready for the season. But for a pair of superstars and a player trying to find his way back into relevance, Sunday provided evidence of hard work beginning to pay off.
Clayton Kershaw became the first Dodgers pitcher to throw five innings this spring, and in those frames he allowed just one unearned run on two hits. He did walk three and struck out two, but at the very least it was an improvement over his last outing, after which Kershaw said he wasn't confident in his performance.
"I'm still not throwing my breaking balls for strikes, but I felt better with my fastball. I felt like it was coming out a little better. When I got behind in some counts they weren't getting good swings on fastballs so that was encouraging," Kershaw said. "There are definitely some things to work on. I walked three guys, fell behind some hitters, but it was definitely better."
Manager Don Mattingly said that outside of really one subpar outing Kershaw has been good this spring, and is not concerned with his ace.
"I think he's been fine," Mattingly said. "At the end of the day I don't think he needed this to feel good about himself, but it's nice to get results."
Kershaw also got a hit on Sunday, an RBI single that drove in the first of six runs in the fifth inning. Kershaw was 1-for-2, and was the first Dodgers pitcher to hit in a game this spring.
"It's more game-like for me, not to have to sit down every inning after three outs and come back out. I think it's good to stimulate that," Kershaw said. "It's more of a game-like feel when you get your at-bats."
With no designated hitter, that meant Matt Kemp played center field on Sunday, his third straight game. Kemp had two hits, his first of the spring. But mostly, he is happy to get back into the flow of the game.
"It's more about a feeling, getting a good feeling at the plate than it is getting hits," Kemp said. "It's not all where it needs to be, but (my rhythm) was definitely better."
Kemp is now 2-for-13 in the Cactus League, and 2-for-17 counting the exhibition against Mexico and Friday's rainout against the Giants. But he's getting closer and closer to being game ready, and both Kemp and Mattingly can feel it.
"I'm not panicking at all. This is how spring training is, for everybody the first 3-4 games," Kemp said. "You might be over there playing winter ball getting some at-bats, but most guys feel weird at first."
"I just think his at-bats will continue to get better," Mattingly said. "He's going to get more comfortable. It will just take time."
Mattingly has also been pleased with the work of Juan Uribe, who hit a three-run home run to cap the six-run rally for the Dodgers. Mattingly said Uribe has been making progress to this point.
"He's been swinging the bat. I know he hit the home run, but the ball he hit for the double play he hit right on the nose," Mattingly said. "The quality of his BP for me has been better. Not necessarily hitting the ball hard, but the angles for me tells me he's hitting the ball lower, and crisper. There aren't so many high, home run-type swings in BP."
Uribe has been working with hitting coach Mark McGwire on trying to stay back and let the ball come to him, which helped on the home run.
"I've been working hard, trying to hit the ball more in the middle and right field. Maybe before I might hit that ball foul," Uribe said. "When you think in the middle, something that's slow like a breaking ball you can wait more on the ball."
Guerra hurts Groin
Relief pitcher Javy Guerra allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning in a minor league game against the Reds on Sunday morning, but apparently did so pitching through a "minor" groin strain. Ken Gurnick caught up with Guerra and has more details at MLB.com.
After the game against the Rockies on Sunday, Mattingly said he would wait and see until how Guerra felt Monday.
"Supposedly he said he felt it in the bullpen Sunday, and didn't tell anybody. He was wanting to throw some balls after the game, too," Mattingly said. "We'll see how it is tomorrow. He pitched with it, so we'll see."
The Dodgers take on the Brewers in Maryvale on Monday afternoon, with Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu on the hill for Los Angeles. Mike Fiers, who made his first major league start and won his first major league game last May 29 at Dodger Stadium, starts for the Brewers.