MILWAUKEE -- More evidence that Clayton Kershaw takes nothing for granted came from his all-out effort Sunday, and will continue to be evident when the laundry bill for his filthy Los Angeles Dodgers uniform arrives Monday.
Against the Milwaukee Brewers, Kershaw had one of those kitchen-sink afternoons, battling his own stuff to keep the opponent at bay, but also going places where other pitchers might not dare to tread.
The snapshot highlights of his all-around effort: Kershaw was hit by a pitch, scored a run, made a diving catch on a Brewers suicide squeeze to start a double play, singled in an insurance run and generally proved to be the inspiration that everybody else rallied around. Oh, and he gave up one run over eight innings in a 5-1 victory over the Brewers.
"That's why he's so great as a baseball player," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "Seventh or eighth inning, I look out there and I see the dirt all over him from diving and sliding on the bases. He'd have it no other way. This guy is a baseball player through and through."
Ask a pitcher if he does anything different with his first-place club on a mini two-game slide, and they might say that the only thing that matters is the task at hand. Kershaw, though, might dig at the dirt on the mound a little more aggressively, stare in for the sign a little more intently and do his best to turn his own frustration into the frustration of his opponent. For the second consecutive start, the left-hander felt his effort did not meet his standard. The Dodgers won both games.
"It was a battle all day long, which shows how special he is," Ellis said. "He probably didn't have his best stuff and he was fighting against himself and fighting against a hard team to play against. That's one of the best offenses in the National League, for sure, and to see what he did tonight to get through eight and hold that team to one run, it's a clinic on how to win when you don't have close to your best stuff."
The Dodgers came to Milwaukee with the best record in the National League and were on the verge of getting swept by the team with the second-best record in the NL. Kershaw made a note of it before he even went to bed Saturday.
"You never want to get swept," he said. "It doesn't change anything I'm trying to do, but I think as a team there is a little bit of added motivation. You don't want to lose three games in a row. You don't want to get swept by a team that you have to play in a week also. It's definitely good to come out of here with a win."
That guy who was junk-yard-dogging it also extended his personal winning streak to 11 games, while posting a 1.16 ERA in that stretch. The run of success started June 2.
"If [Kershaw] keeps working hard, he's going to be good one of these days," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez deadpanned. "He's fun to play behind."
After missing 44 games on the disabled list earlier this season because of a strained back muscle that connects to his left arm, Kershaw has still managed to rally into Cy Young Award contention. Only one other pitcher since 1993 has won a Cy Young Award after spending time that year on the disabled list: Pedro Martinez, who did it in both 1999 and 2000.
Now on the longest winning streak for a Dodgers pitcher since Orel Hershiser won 11 consecutive in 1985, there is no better stopper on the Dodgers' staff than the left-hander, and he is probably the best in that department in the entire league.
"You can kind of throw him in there for the best guy for any situation you want to put him in," manager Don Mattingly said. "Stop the streak, continue the streak, start the streak, whatever you want. Clayton is pretty good in any situation. His last couple have been a little out of sync, but you see what he does with that. He continues to work and not give in and keeps battling."
It's no surprise that Kershaw's biggest challenge is himself. It might get only tougher for him since he will face the Brewers right away in his next start at Dodger Stadium next weekend.
"They're a great team; you can see why they're in first place," Kershaw said. "They swing the bats well and I'm going to have to figure it out again whenever I pitch against them. It's back-to-back. Maybe I have to change the game plan a little. It was OK, but there are things I can definitely get better at."
If he has to dig into the more obscure parts of his game again, he'll do it. His pride doesn't get in the way. And if that means diving to catch bunts again, Mattingly is OK with it.
"I don't really worry about him with that kind of stuff," Mattingly said. "If you notice him, he's kind of hard all the time. He's not the typical pitcher that jogs to first, he runs hard to first. I think he trains in a way that he's a baseball player and I think that's what you see in him.
"He knows how to slide, he runs the bases hard, he's trying to help himself win a game and I think that's the difference. He works on his bunting, he works on his hitting. All aspects with him is part of him winning a game. When Clayton is out there, he's a baseball player so those things don't really bother me."
When you take nothing for granted not even your manager will try to stop you.