LOS ANGELES -- As stormy as his first inning might have been Wednesday, Clayton Kershaw still had a little rainy-day money in his back pocket.
An uncharacteristic first inning saw the Los Angeles Dodgers' staff ace in unfamiliar territory, with the bases loaded and nobody out well before twilight even set in. First-inning jams are not Kershaw's typical pattern, and a jam of any kind at home is as rare as a Southern California snow.
But this is one of the best pitchers in the game, and even after a rocky start, Kershaw still had a little more remaining to his arsenal in the name of his slow curveball that he introduced in the later innings of the Dodgers' 4-2 win over the Colorado Rockies.
"He didn't go to his [curve] early and typically second and third time through [the lineup] he likes to go to it," manager Dave Roberts said. "The first one he threw [in the second inning] was really good. It's such a weapon and when he was seeing those guys a third time through he was working those guys."
By the time the fifth inning rolled around, Kershaw's curveball had been added to the game plan. After Trevor Story led off the fifth with a double, Kershaw retired the next three batters, ending the threat with a strikeout of Charlie Blackmon on a 74 mph rainbow.
"That was one of the better ones of the night," Kershaw said. "I don't think I had thrown one in a while and yeah, it was a big out with a guy in scoring position."
For Kershaw, letting go of a perfect curveball is not unlike a 3-point shooter feeling the perfect release on a jump shot.
"Yeah, you kind of know when you let it go if it's going to be good or bad," Kershaw said. "I'm thankful that one was good."
Kershaw's early mix of fastballs and sliders was unable to contain the daunting Rockies offense at the outset. Blackmon walked to lead off the game, a rarity in itself, before singles from DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado loaded the bases with no outs. The last time Kershaw walked the game's leadoff batter, it was in a July 3, 2015 contest against the New York Mets, making it 40 consecutive starts since he had done so. It was also only the second walk of the season for Kershaw and only his sixth in his past 11 home starts.
His 27-pitch opening inning was more unfamiliar territory. It was the most pitches Kershaw had thrown in the first inning since also throwing 27 in a Sept. 19, 2014 game against the Chicago Cubs. That was a span of 59 starts.
Instead of breaking the game open early, the Rockies managed only one run on a Mark Reynolds sacrifice fly. When Kershaw struck out Gerardo Parra to end the first inning with just one Rockies run on the board, a turning point had arrived even before the Dodgers came to the plate for the first time.
"He labored a little bit," Roberts said of Kershaw. "I don't think the linescore speaks to that, but those guys over there, they put some at-bats together against Clayton. I think that even Clayton might say that he never really had [it]. There were a couple of innings in there where he had rhythm, but tonight he really couldn't find it [consistently]."
That Kershaw could still strike out 10 Rockies is a testament to his elite pitching ability. When the night was done, Kershaw improved to 10-0 in his past 11 home starts with a 0.65 ERA in that stretch. Opposing offenses are batting .136 against him in those games.
"I guess overall I was probably overthrowing a little bit in that first inning, just maybe hopped up a little bit and kind of overthrowing my slider and leaving pitches up," Kershaw said. "That team can really hit. Those guys, especially the way Arenado is swinging the bat right now, he's one of the best in the game. It's definitely a tough lineup to get through."
Once his slider came around and the curveball kept the Rockies honest, Kershaw was back on track quickly.
"So I guess after that first inning, I guess I threw better pitches ... probably," Kershaw said.
The great ones have a way of making it look and sound easy.