It’s rare as a sports fan that you get to witness history. I may have done so on Sunday when I was fortunate enough to witness the highly-anticipated debut of one of the best prospects in baseball: 20 year old pitcher Clayton Kershaw. I watched the young lefty’s first start in the big leagues from the Loge level of Doger Stadium on a cloudy afternoon in Southern California, and I left with the same butterflies I came in with.
Now I’m not one to believe the hype. I am one of the biggest cynics you will find when it comes to young talent, especially young, hard-throwing pitchers. I’m used to seeing guys come up from the minors with electric stuff who fail because they have no idea how to pitch.
They throw 95+, but leave it in the middle of the plate. They have a devastating breaking ball, but can’t throw it for a strike. They get caught up in trying to strike everyone out, and build up 100+ pitches by the fifth inning.
And that is exactly the kind of immaturity Kershaw displayed in his first inning of work. After striking out Cardinals leadoff hitter Skip Shumaker, he walked the second hitter and gave up an RBI double to the great Albet Pujols (due in part to shotty fielding by Juan Pierre). Kershaw ended up striking out the side, but threw over 20 pitches and looked like he had no chance of locating his breaking ball. I figured he’d struggle to get through 5 innings and give up 3 or 4 runs while striking out 7 or 8 (shades of Chad Billingsley, and we see how that’s turned out so far).
But, presumably after a mid-inning talk from dugout leader and catcher Russel Martin, Kershaw turned the corner. He got a groundout on the second pitch of the at-bat to start the second inning, and he cruised from then on.
With the game tied at 2 (the second run scored on a sun-ball off James Loney’s face and a high throw to home from Blake DeWitt), Kershaw, rather than being satisfied with a great first start, finished his job by getting a fly out to left field with runners on second and third to keep the game tied. After the Dodgers took the lead in the bottom of the sixth, Kershaw was in line for the win in his first big-league start, and would have gotten it if not for a leadoff walk by Cory Wade and a throwing error by Martin in the seventh.
Kershaw’s final line: 6 innings, 5 hits, 2 ER, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, 102 pitches
I know the Cardinals aren’t exactly the ’27 Yankees, but Kershaw looked brilliant. More impressive than the mid 90s fastballs and the 12-6 curveball was the fact that he actually PITCHED. He was economic with his pitches and got big outs when he needed to.
I believe the hype. Kershaw is the best lefty starter the Dodgers have seen since….um….Odalis Perez? Kaz Ishii? Carlos Perez? Wilson Alvarez?
I don’t want to draw any comparisons to a certain Dodgers Hall of Fame left-handed starter (we’ll just call him Randy Nofax), because that would be unfair, but Kershaw certainly looks like the real deal.