Clayton Kershaw has made seven starts since returning from an undisclosed shoulder injury on Aug. 10, the Dodgers left-hander’s fastball so diminished he has induced just four swinging strikes on the 169 four-seamers he has thrown in those games.
But what Kershaw lacks in stuff, he makes up for in guts and guile.
Kershaw blanked the San Francisco Giants on two hits over five innings of Saturday night’s 7-0 win before a sold-out crowd of 52,704 in Chavez Ravine for his 210th career victory, moving him ahead of Don Drysdale and into second place on the franchise’s all-time win list behind Don Sutton (233).
In what could be his last regular-season start in Dodger Stadium if he retires or departs as a free agent this winter, Kershaw, 35, escaped a two-on, no-out jam in the fifth inning, first by striking out Tyler Fitzgerald with an 86-mph slider and getting Patrick Bailey to ground out to third.
Austin Slater followed with a sinking line drive to left field, but David Peralta made a nice lunging/diving catch to end the inning to preserve a 3-0 lead and keep Kershaw in line for a win that improved the three-time National League Cy Young Award winner to 3-0 with a 2.03 ERA — and the Dodgers to 6-1–in Kershaw’s last seven starts.
Joe Kelly retired the side in order with two strikeouts in the sixth, Michael Grove struck out three and walked one in the seventh and eighth innings, and Caleb Ferguson added a scoreless ninth to complete the shutout for the National League West-champion Dodgers (95-59).
Designated hitter J.D. Martinez provided a big chunk of the offense with a solo home run to center field, his 31st of the season, in the second inning and a two-out, two-run double to right in the third and is batting .365 (19 for 52) with six homers, two doubles and 20 RBIs in 14 September games.
Freddie Freeman drove in a run with his major league-high 57th double of the season in the fifth inning and needs three doubles in the final eight games to produce the first 60-double season since World War II. Max Muncy followed Freeman’s hit with an RBI single to center for a 5-0 lead.
Mookie Betts walked and scored in the third and fifth inning, doubled in the seventh and roped a two-run double to left-center in the eighth for a 7-0 lead. Betts has driven in 105 runs in the leadoff spot, the most in major league history in a single season.
Kershaw missed six weeks from late-June to early August because of shoulder soreness and returned with less zip on his fastball, which dipped from its usual 91-mph range to an average of 88.2 mph in a Sept. 5 start at Miami and 88.7 mph in his previous start at Seattle on Sept. 16.
The Dodgers skipped Kershaw in the rotation in early September and gave him six days rest before Saturday night’s start to give him some extra time to recover. His fastball averaged 88.7 mph again Saturday night but kept the Giants off the board by mixing the pitch with his 85-mph slider and looping 72-mph curveball.
“It’s remarkable, it really is,” manager Dave Roberts said of Kershaw’s ability to pitch so effectively with diminished stuff. “I think Clayton is the first to tell you he doesn’t like to use anything as an excuse or talk about anything, but I know what’s going on. I just have so much respect for him. People can’t do what he can do.
“I remember a start [in 2018] where he was throwing [87-88 mph] in a game where his back went out. And he found a way to get through [five innings of one-run] baseball. I don’t know how he was doing it. He ended up going on the IL right after that. He just sort of wills himself to get guys out.”
Kershaw, who improved to 13-4 with a 2.42 ERA this season and 26-15 with a 1.99 ERA in 58 career games against the Giants, usually responds to questions about his shoulder by smiling and saying, “I’m fine.” Not only has he not used it as an excuse, he’s barely even acknowledged it as an injury. It’s more of a nuisance.
Asked if Kershaw told the Dodgers not to disclose details of his shoulder injury or if the team made that decision, Roberts said, “Maybe a combo. I think it’s one of those things where … it doesn’t do much good to talk about something if you’re making a decision to compete. What’s the point of it? I think Clayton, he sees the world sometimes like that.”
Outfielder Jason Heyward is the winner of the 2023 Roy Campanella Award, given annually to the player who best exemplifies the spirit and leadership of the Hall-of-Fame catcher and voted upon by Dodgers uniformed personnel. Heyward was presented with the award before Saturday night’s game by Campanella’s daughter, Joni Campanella Roan, and his grandson, Malcolm Campanella.