One start does not make a season, but Clayton Kershaw on Wednesday did more than enough to push aside concerns about his health, authoring one of the best starts of his career.
Kershaw struck out 13 in seven perfect innings in his first start of the season, in the Dodgers’ 7-0 win over the Twins. Kershaw wasn’t permitted to pitch beyond the eighth, which isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s paid attention to Dave Roberts’ managerial career.
In his 80 pitches, Kershaw was as dominant as his stat line implied, but especially with his devastating slider. Kershaw got 17 swings and misses on the pitch, and finished off his first 11 strikeouts with his bread-and-butter pitch. The last two strikeouts came on a fastball (looking) and a curveball (swinging) to complete the baker’s dozen, the 16th time Kershaw has struck out that many in a game (including the postseason).
Alex Vesia relieved Kershaw, and the perfect game and no-hitter vanished on a one-out single by Gary Sanchez in the eighth inning. The natural inclination is to wonder what would have happened had Kershaw been allowed to keep pitching, with another chance at history.
But considering that Kershaw missed three months in 2021 with elbow pain, and spent the bulk of his offseason resting after a platelet-rich plasma injection, and that his first turn in the rotation was pushed back to the fifth game of the season to afford him the opportunity to further build up his arm after a truncated spring, pulling Kershaw after seven innings was at the very least reasonable, if not emotionally discouraging.
But considering how jovial Kershaw was in the dugout while he was still in the game, and how much smiling he did on the field and in the dugout after a conversation with Roberts, he certainly seemed fully on board with the decision.
“Those are individual things. Those are selfish goals. We’re trying to win, that’s really all we’re here for,” Kershaw said to Kirsten Watson on SportsNet LA after the game. “As much as I would have wanted to do it, I’ve thrown 75 pitches in a sim game. I hadn’t gone six innings, let alone seven.”
"I knew going in that my pitch count wasn’t going to be 100. It’s a hard thing to do, to come out of a game when you’re doing that. We’re here to win. This was the right choice." @ClaytonKersh22 (7 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 13 Ks) on his perfect outing. pic.twitter.com/DtlnlrBTWE— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) April 13, 2022
No bat racks were attacked, no lights were smashed, at least visible on the SportsNet LA broadcast, as Kershaw retreated to the clubhouse smiling after his perfect pitching was done.
“Earlier in my career I’d be built up to 100 pitches. Blame it on the lockout, blame it on me not picking up a baseball ‘til January,” Kershaw told Jack Harris of the LA Times, as shown on SportsNet LA. “But my slider was horrible the last two innings, it didn’t have the bite. It was time. It was time.”
One reason he had to smile was thanks to Gavin Lux, whose nifty grab of a short hop recorded the 21st out for Kershaw and at the time preserved the perfect game.
“Up the middle, what a play! Oh, there’s the play! It’s from Gavin Lux,” said Joe Davis on the SportsNet LA, just seconds after Eric Karros brought up the Hanley Ramirez error in Kershaw’s 2014 no-hitter.
The timing of Karros bringing up the error, much like the positioning and glove work of Lux on the play, and the pitching of Kershaw all day Wednesday, was, well, perfect.
Home runs: Cody Bellinger (1), Gavin Lux (1), Austin Barnes (2), Max Muncy (1)
WP — Clayton Kershaw (1-0): 7 IP, 13 strikeouts
LP — Chris Paddack (0-1): 4 IP, 6 hits, 3 runs, 3 strikeouts