Clayton Kershaw on the throwback trail

LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw has, it can safely be said at this point, emerged from Sandy Koufax's shadow.

When you win three consecutive ERA titles and two Cy Young Awards in three years; when you throw, arguably, the greatest non-perfect game in history; when your career ERA is the best among any pitcher since 1920 with a minimum of 1,000 innings, there's literally no shadow big enough to obscure you, not even that of a living legend.

But Kershaw will just never catch up to Koufax in one particular category.

He won't, will he?

He'll never throw 27 complete games in a season, as Koufax did in his final two seasons, right?

It was easier to count the non-complete games in Koufax's case: 14 both years. The game just isn't played that way anymore. Kershaw's arm is worth more than $200 million to the Dodgers and they're going to watch every pitch meticulously when he throws more than 100.

But that doesn't mean he can't try. The Los Angeles Dodgers' two best relievers, Kenley Jansen and J.P. Howell, were unavailable Thursday night due to recent heavy workloads, and if you're familiar with the work of the Dodgers' middle relief corps this season, that's kind of a big deal.

Or, it would have been if any other pitcher on the staff -- or any other pitcher on the planet -- was getting the start.

"I think he'd probably like to go a complete game every time out, if it was up to him," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He could do it. He's the one who likes to finish it, but there are times he'll let me know if he's tired at all. Tonight, after the eighth he was smiling at me like, 'Why not?' "

Kershaw got through the ninth inning of the Dodgers' 2-1 win over the Atlanta Braves -- their sixth win in a row -- despite a bit of a circus: a double off Adrian Gonzalez's glove and an RBI infield single by Justin Upton that was so close at first base, it required a 2 minute, 36 second review that Kershaw and the Dodgers lost.

Kershaw had to throw a couple of pitches to stay warm, but he got Evan Gattis to ground out to end it. It was his third complete game in his last four starts and his fifth of the season, including that no-hitter and a cheapie shortened to five innings in Colorado on June 8. And, when Kershaw runs in the outfield Friday, as he always does the day after starts, he'll probably be thinking about another ninth inning.

He said that is the goal of his workouts, which are among the most rigorous on the Dodgers.

"You want to be the same from the first inning to the ninth inning. You want to be the same from April to October," Kershaw said. "I kind of base it on everything you put in; you need to be 100 percent by the ninth inning and by October and, if you don't, then you probably need to change something."

The Dodgers didn't need to change anything either, and they didn't, allowing the July 31 trade deadline to come and go without making a trade other than the acquisition of a bench infielder, Darwin Barney, who already had been designated for assignment by the Chicago Cubs. And, sure, they would have loved to add David Price or Jon Lester to their team. They tried, balking at other teams who insisted they include a package of their finest prospects.

Perhaps the No. 1 reason they didn't feel compelled to do so is that they have Kershaw, who is better than both of the pitchers who were traded. In fact, you could have made an argument that Price and Lester might have slotted as the Dodgers' No. 3 starter behind Zack Greinke, especially if you think of it as breaking up the lefties in a rotation.

Kershaw (13-2, 1.71 ERA) won his 10th straight decision. He called it a "huge compliment," to be compared to Lester and Price.

"The trade deadline is exciting. We all watch it just like everyone else and it's fun to see all these big trades," Kershaw said. "Usually, we're a part of it, so it's a different feel for us not to be. That's just a sign, probably, of how good our team is."

It's a sign, too, of how good its ace is.