Clayton Kershaw is back on the mound Tuesday night and ready to dominate the Nationals.Clayton Kershaw makes his first appearance since Opening Day on Tuesday night after missing more than a month with an inflamed back muscle. Here are some of the storylines we'll be following as he takes the mound against the Washington Nationals at 7:05 ET.
Facing the Nationals
Kershaw has dominated the Nationals over the previous two seasons, going 3-0 with a 1.52 ERA in three starts.
He has struck out 26 batters against just two walks and the Nats have a collective .373 OPS against him in that span. For perspective, Yonder Alonso has the lowest OPS in the majors this season at .426.
Nationals Batting vs. LHP
MLB Ranks This Season
However, he has had trouble with the long ball against the Nationals in his career, especially in Washington.
He has given up seven homers in just 51 innings versus the Nats (1.2 per 9 IP), including four in 17⅓ innings at Nationals Park. The Nationals are the only NL team to which he allowed more than one homer per nine innings against in his career.
The Nationals may have the lineup to do some damage against Kershaw. No team has a higher OPS versus southpaws this season than Washington, and only the Rockies have a higher batting average and slugging percentage.
Looking back at his first start
In his first start of the season, Kershaw leaned heavily on his slider, throwing it nearly a third of the time against the Diamondbacks, who could barely touch it. Arizona went 0-for-7 with three strikeouts and four groundouts in at-bats ending in a Kershaw slider March 22.
Kershaw's nasty slider should not have surprised the D-backs. Since the start of last season, only three pitchers have gotten more whiffs on their slider than Kershaw: Yu Darvish, Francisco Liriano and Ervin Santana.
Kershaw has been nothing short of incredible in his career, with a 2.59 ERA in six-plus seasons. In the live-ball era, only Tom Seaver had a lower ERA through his age-26 season than Kershaw among pitchers who threw at least 1,000 innings.
At Least 1,000 IP Through Age-25 Season
However, one concern has been his workload so far in his career, an issue that some think may cause problems down the road.
In the wild-card era, Kershaw is one of only seven pitchers to log more than 1,000 innings before his age-26 season.
The only pitcher with more is Félix Hernández, and his innings came over seven seasons as he made his debut at age 19.
Five of the other six pitchers who threw at least 1,000 innings before their age-26 seasons saw a drop in their ERA+, which is a pitcher’s ERA measured against the league average and adjusts for park factors (100 is average).
All six previous pitchers were above average in ERA+ through their age-25 seasons, but the only pitcher of the group who managed to improve on that mark from age 26 on was CC Sabathia, and his recent struggles have been well-documented. Can Kershaw reverse the trend and continue his dominance?