Clayton Kershaw stuck with his best pitch, and was backed by a pair of early home runs in the Dodgers’ third straight win, 7-1 over the Cubs on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium.
Kershaw struck out a season-best 13 batters on Sunday, his highest regular season strikeout total in four years. The first six strikeouts, and 10 of the 13, ended on Kershaw’s slider, his most used effective weapon.
In at-bats that end on a Kershaw slider in 2021, opponents are hitting .181 (39-for-216) with 93 strikeouts. It’s no wonder he throws the pitch 47 percent of the time, including 49 of his 101 pitches on Sunday. The Cubs were 0-for-13 in at-bats ending with a slider on Sunday, and had trouble picking it up all game.
“Any time you get to pitch a 4:15 game at Dodger Stadium, with the shadows, that’s a good game,” Kershaw said.
Most whiffs on Kershaw’s slider, 2021
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Kershaw got 22 whiffs on the slider, his most in a start this season. He had 26 total whiffs against the Cubs, his most in one start since 2016.
“As far as the sequencing, using every part of the strike zone,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s hard to imagine him being any better.”
The dominance with the slider helped set up Kershaw’s curve, which he only threw 11 times but finished off three strikeouts with the pitch. Public Enemy No. 3 has a nice ring to it.
Kershaw’s only blemishes on the night came courtesy of Javier Báez, whose solo shot in the fourth inning gave Chicago its only run against Kershaw. On a night that Paula Abdul was in attendance at Dodger Stadium, it made sense that Báez’s homer was hit to right field. After all, oppo seats attract.
Kershaw didn’t even have a three-ball count until his last batter in the sixth inning. Then in the seventh, he walked Báez, just like he did on May 4 at Wrigley Field. Báez against Kershaw has walked twice in four plate appearances this season, and against everyone else he has seven walks in 267 trips to the plate.
Sunday was the first eight-inning start and the first 13-strikeout start for Kershaw since Game 2 of last year’s wild card series against the Brewers. As he walked off the mound at Dodger Stadium on Sunday, Kershaw got a standing ovation from the Dodger Stadium crowd, only to be interrupted by a routine check for foreign substances by home plate umpire Ryan Blakney. The crowd turned to boos until the inspection was finished, then serenaded Kershaw with more cheers as he finished his trip to the dugout.
“I told him ‘You might get booed here for a little bit’,” Kershaw said with a laugh. “It’s part of the game now. They’re just doing their job. They’re doing what they’re asked to do. You just kind of roll with it and keep going.”
After a pair of wins decided in their last at-bat, the Dodgers put their four-game losing streak even further in the rearview mirror by erupting early on Sunday.
While Kershaw was pounding the strike zone all game, Adbert Alzolay was wild in the second inning. He hit Matt Beaty to open the frame — tying Beaty for the team lead, with eight HBP — then walked Chris Taylor and Gavin Lux. Zach McKinstry followed with a towering home run into the right field pavilion.
ZACH MCKINSTRY GRAND SLAM. pic.twitter.com/TYE1ovGhWx— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 27, 2021
McKinstry with one swing set a career high for RBI in a game, and hit the sixth grand slam of the season by the Dodgers. The club record is 10 grand slams, hit in 2004. McKinstry said it was the first grand slam he’s ever hit at any level.
But the scoring wasn’t over in the inning, thanks to a throwing error by Báez extending the frame. Cody Bellinger followed with his second home run in as many days.
Bellinger, whose solo home run on Saturday delivered the Dodgers’ first walk-off win of the season, drove in a third run in the sixth with a fly ball to right field after Mookie Betts tripled.
Home runs: Zach McKinstry (5), Cody Bellinger (3); Javier Báez (18)
WP — Clayton Kershaw (9-7): 8 IP, 4 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 13 strikeouts
LP — Adbert Alzolay (4-7): 3 IP, 5 hits, 6 runs (4 earned), 3 walks, 3 strikeouts
The Dodgers welcome the first-place Giants to town for a quick two-game series at Dodger Stadium beginning Monday night (7:10 p.m., SportsNet LA). Trevor Bauer starts the opener for Los Angeles, facing Anthony DeSclafani for San Francisco.