Long before the Dodgers would beat the Padres 5-3 on opening day at Petco Park, catcher A.J. Ellis knew something was up during pregame warmups on Thursday. Clayton Kershaw did something he almost never does.
"After warming up, I didn't expect him to start the game at all," Ellis said of Kershaw. "He's so routine and detail-oriented, he throws the exact same number of warmup pitches. About midway through, he looked at me and said, 'Only five more.' I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this is not good'."
Ellis walked with Kershaw straight to the clubhouse, as the pitcher had spend all day dealing with the stomach flu, not able to keep anything down, and Kershaw hadn't eaten all day.
Manager Don Mattingly thought about starting Jamey Wright and essentially making it a bullpen game, but Kershaw felt good enough to take the mound to start the game. Kershaw retired the first eight batters he faced, and even got a single while batting, but it was clear he was not himself.
"When he's throwing fastballs at 89, 88, you know he's not feeling good," Mattingly said.
Ellis said that without his fastball, the one saving grace for Kershaw was his changeup, the pitch Kershaw has been trying to hone for years with limited success.
"He really wasn't letting it loose. I joked with him and said, 'let's get a little crafty today'," Ellis said. "Striking out [Chase] Headley with the bases loaded, he really reached back for that fastball, probably the only fastball he cut loose all game. It was the biggest pitch of the game at that point."
Indeed, that pitch to Headley ended the third inning and kept the game scoreless, but by that point Kershaw was done, physically.
"The last time I looked, he was laying on the floor down in the tunnel," Mattingly said. "It's not a good sign when your starting pitcher is laying down."
Kershaw allowed two hits and a walk, striking out three in his three scoreless innings, keeping his career opening day ERA at 0.00 (over 10 innings).
"To do what he did tonight, to give us three innings, when he was dying in the training room, it was pretty awesome," Ellis said of Kershaw.
Josh Lindblom pitched two scoreless innings, retiring all six batters he faced, helping lessen the blow of Kershaw leaving early.
"You get spoiled and you get to the point where you think when Clayton's pitching it's almost a day off, for the middle guys for sure," Ellis said. "They stepped up. What Josh Lindblom did to bridge the game to the back end was huge and kept us in control, along with Matt Guerrier coming in and throwing a big seventh inning and of course Javy shutting the door."
Kemp Meets Magic
Magic Johnson, part of the pending new ownership group of the Dodgers, met very briefly in the dugout with Mattingly and a few of the players before the game, including Matt Kemp. Johnson sat with Frank McCourt directly next to the Dodgers third base dugout.
After Kemp homered in the eighth inning, his first of the season, Johnson looked into the dugout and said to Kemp, "Nice job."
Kemp, who last week said he looked forward to looking from the on deck circle to see Magic in the nearby ownership seats at Dodger Stadium, was giddy. "I thought, wow, Magic is talking to me during the game," Kemp said.
The game was scoreless until the fourth inning, as Edinson Volquez was matching Kershaw with zeroes. But Volquez got a little wild in the top of the fourth, walking four Dodgers. Two of the walks came with the bases loaded, with James Loney and Ellis knocking in runs.
It was the first time the Dodgers had multiple walks with the bases loaded in the same inning since August 30, 2011, when they had three in the bottom of the second inning against Tim Stauffer and the Padres at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers and Padres do battle again on Friday night, with Chad Billingsley looking to right the ship after a tough spring facing Cory Luebke for San Diego.
Time: 7:05 p.m.