LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw called himself “awful,” and said, “the team won in spite of me,” the last time he pitched.
Three starts into spring training and three weeks before Opening Day, he was seething with frustration after the San Diego Padres got some hits and scored some runs off him, saying, “I’m definitely looking to have a good start one of these days.”
So, while Kershaw’s two-game “slump” might have been the high point of some pitchers’ major league careers -- he got through the fifth inning and held the opponent to three runs or fewer both times -- you can assume Kershaw wasn’t basking in his awesomeness coming into Sunday.
“Every time he struggles, he’s going to be particularly focused that next outing,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
The Milwaukee Brewers happened to stumble into Kershaw after two mediocre outings and they found his focus laser-like. Kershaw struck out 12 Brewers Sunday, hitters flailing at an assortment of mid-90s fastballs, breaking balls and changeups. It was a more complete arsenal than Kershaw had shown in recent weeks. He adjusts his approach to the team he is facing -- in this case, a lineup stacked with right-handed batters -- and is thus more likely to be on top of his fastball.
“It’s good to see Kershaw back to himself,” Carl Crawford said.
Kershaw, who picked up his first win since April 6, left Dodger Stadium shortly after Sunday's start without speaking to reporters. A team spokesman said he had a personal matter to attend to. His numbers did a good job speaking for him. Since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles 55 years ago, according to ESPN Stats & Info, only six pitchers have struck out 12 batters without allowing a run or walking anybody in a start. The man Kershaw is relentlessly compared to, Sandy Koufax, did it four times. Nobody else has done it twice.
The next time Kershaw describes himself as “awful,” pity the team he’s about to face.