LOS ANGELES (AP) — Clayton Kershaw has never been one for making excuses. Whether it’s his health or velocity, both of which have taken hits in recent years, he would rather gut out whatever is going on in silence.
“He’s a survivor, he’s a competitor,” Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He just wills himself to great performance.”
The 100-win Dodgers will rely on their stalwart left-hander when Kershaw starts the NL Division Series opener Saturday against the 84-win Arizona Diamondbacks. He was 13-5 with a 2.46 ERA during the season.
“Might not be throwing 95, like I used to face him 15 years ago, but he knows how to pitch and he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer for a reason,” teammate Freddie Freeman said Friday. “The velocity is 88, 89 right now and with that slider it’s still Clayton Kershaw.”
Kershaw missed over a month with a shoulder injury that neither he nor the Dodgers have said much about. The team carefully managed his outings, which have not gone beyond five innings since he came off the injured list on Aug. 10.
At 35 and in his 16th season with the only big league team he’s ever played for, the three-time Cy Young Award winner could be in his final postseason.
“I’ve thought about that for the last few years,” Roberts said. “I’m not going to get caught not appreciating what he’s done for the Dodgers.”
The Dodgers’ postseason pitching has an unconventional look as the result of upheaval during the season. Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May were lost for the year with right elbow injuries. Walker Buehler was ruled out from making an early return after Tommy John surgery and Julio Urías was placed on paid administrative leave last month after domestic violence allegations.
They’ll rely on Kershaw, veteran Lance Lynn in his first season in LA and a group of rookies who started 52 of the 162 regular-season games. Bobby Miller, who gets the ball in Game 2 on Monday, made 22 starts. Also in the mix are Emmett Sheehan, Michael Grove, Gavin Stone and Ryan Pepiot.
“They’re way more prepared than when I first came up. They’re ready for the moment, and I think they’re going to be great,” Kershaw said of the youngsters. “It might look a little different than it has in years past, but it might work.”
Kershaw’s dominance in the regular season has rarely translated to the postseason. He’s 13-12 with a 4.22 ERA and 213 strikeouts in 38 career playoff appearances.
“At times maybe in the past I had a fear of failure and didn’t want to go out there and fail,” he said. “Now it’s just a lot more positive. It’s just the nerves are from an excitement to get to pitch in the playoffs, to get to be a part of it, to be in this moment that a lot of people in the game don’t get to be in.”
Arizona’s Merrill Kelly opposes Kershaw in Game 1. The right-hander is 0-11 with a 5.49 ERA in 16 starts against the Dodgers.
“It’s a bit of a mystery, a bit of a puzzle for me to solve,” Kelly said of his skid. “We are diving into some different stuff and some different numbers and some different video to kind of figure out the different pieces of that puzzle.”
Zac Gallen starts in Game 2. With an extra off day between Games 1 and 2, Kelly and Gallen could pitch in Games 4 and 5 if the series goes the distance.
D-backs catcher Gabriel Moreno is set to start Saturday, three days after leaving a win over the Brewers in the third inning after getting hit on the head by a backswing.
Manager Torey Lovullo said Moreno is not in concussion protocol although he has been tested and monitored. “He continues to improve and show no symptoms whatsoever,” Lovullo said.
Moreno has emerged as one of the team’s best players, hitting .284 with seven homers during the regular season while doing a superb job handling the pitching staff.
ARIZONA’S MIGHTY PEN
The Diamondbacks have received a huge boost from their bullpen over the past month, particularly from middle relievers such as Andrew Saalfrank and Ryan Thompson.
“There’s probably tier one, tier two and tier three of guys I can go to that are going to go collect big outs,” Lovullo said. “It gives me a lot of versatility.”
The 26-year-old Saalfrank made his big league debut on Sept. 5 and almost immediately became a vital part of the staff, throwing 10 1/3 scoreless innings over the final month.
The 31-year-old Thompson signed as a free agent with the D-backs in August after getting released by the Rays. He gave up one run over 13 innings after he joined his new team.
Both pitchers threw in both wild card games against the Brewers.
HE SAID IT
“It really messes up my college football watching.” — Kershaw said of making his fourth consecutive Saturday start.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Phoenix contributed to this report.
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb