LOS ANGELES -- For Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, most of 2014 has been a breeze, putting up unfathomable numbers. Though on Monday night, in a rare true blowout, Kershaw was removed after eight innings despite a low pitch count of 89.
With the Dodgers leading 9-3 and the game comfortably in hand, manager Don Mattingly called on Pedro Baez to pitch the ninth, despite a plea from his ace to try for his seventh complete game of the season.
"He definitely wanted to finish. I just didn't feel like it was the right thing," Mattingly said. "I was just trying to save him an inning there more than anything."
With the caveat that we may never know with certainty the point at which riding an innings horse shifts into overuse, but it's safe to say Kershaw hasn't really been taxed in 2014.
Yes, he is averaging 7.39 innings per start on the season, and has lasted eight or more innings in six straight, 10 of his last 12, and 12 of his last 15 starts. But Kershaw has also thrown 110 pitches just three times all season, with a high of 115. Despite his high innings totals, Kershaw is averaging under 100 pitches per start, at 99.5.
His 89 pitches through eight innings on Monday was his lowest pitch count since throwing 73 pitches at Coors Field on June 8, in a rain-shorted five-inning complete game win. That was also the last time Kershaw pitches less than seven innings in a start, 16 starts ago.
"You always want to keep your pitch count low, to give your manager options," Kershaw said. "You always want to try and get deep in the game. It's something you can control as a starting pitcher. For me, you want to go eight or nine innings every time."
For the most part, Kershaw has gone eight or nine innings just about every time, averaging 8.06 innings per start.
"He just wants to pitch. A guy like that, he looks at it like 'I want to throw a complete game every time out'," Mattingly said. "He knows his pitch count is low, he knows he has an extra day [coming up], he knows he's coming off an extra day. All those factors.
"You don't want to make a decision as he pleaded his case. We made the decision in between the innings. What I told him was it was the best thing for the team. There will be games, if everything is on the line I'll let him go even if he's at 110. I'm saving him 10 pitches now for later."
Kershaw wanted to stay in but knew he wouldn't win the argument.
"I wanted to, but Donnie gave me the 'it's not best for the team' speech.' You can't argue with that," Kershaw said, grinning. "I don't know how you comeback from that one."
Monday was also Kershaw's third straight start with an extra day of rest. His next start, on Sunday against the rival Giants, is also on five days rest. The Dodgers shuffled their rotation such that Hyun-jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Kershaw, in that order, would start against the Giants on Sep. 12-14 in San Francisco and Sep. 22-24 in Los Angeles.
The Dodgers are 6-2 against the Giants this season in games started by that trio, and 0-5 in games started by anyone else. Kershaw is 12-5 with a 1.40 ERA in 24 career games against the Giants, including 23 starts. He is 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in two starts against them this season, and two of his next three starts are against the Dodgers' chief rivals.
"You obviously know that the Giants games are pretty important, but you can't take any team for granted, either. They've been marked on our calendar for a little while," Kershaw said. "It's nice that now this is my next start. It's not in the back of my mind anymore, which is good."
The Dodgers will send Roberto Hernandez to the mound on Tuesday night in the middle game of the series. The Padres will counter with Andrew Cashner.