PEORIA, Ariz. -- It’s becoming a spring tradition, watching how upset Clayton Kershaw gets at his results in Arizona and how little those results seem to predict the future and Opening Day.
After a so-so outing against the Seattle Mariners that resulted in a 5-2 victory for the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, Kershaw was far from thrilled with his execution. He allowed just one run and managed to pitch into the fourth inning before manager Don Mattingly had to pull him because his pitch count reached 65.
On a hot, windy afternoon, Kershaw had erratic command, often missing well above the strike zone. He worked around seven baserunners, three of whom walked. The sharpest-hit ball was a ringing double by Mike Zunino over Carl Crawford's head.
"I guess it's good to pitch out of the stretch and have some situations like that, but today was rough," Kershaw said. "I was all over the place, had no idea where the ball was going. I need to figure it out. I'm getting worse as the spring goes on."
Kershaw said he feels fine and doesn't doubt he'll get his arm and body in shape for Opening Day on April 6. But he also noted that he now needs to worry about the "other part.” Which is?
"Getting people out," he said.
Kershaw has pitched 8⅓ innings here and has a 2.16 ERA, but his sharpest outing was his first. A year ago, he had a 9.20 spring ERA and when asked what he was going to try to do differently in the regular season, he said, "try not to have a 9.00 ERA." In 2013, he had a 4.18 spring ERA and after struggling early said, "I'm definitely looking to have a good start here one of these days."
The dry air of Arizona could be part of the problem because Kershaw's breaking pitches likely don't get as much bite and might not be as sharp. Kershaw has won four straight major league ERA titles when the games actually count.
"I'm sure in here he was talking about how bad he was. I love it. He was doing the same thing on the bench, but from our standpoint, it's what we love about him," Mattingly said. "He's always going to be striving for perfection and wanting more."
Sunday was Kershaw's first game pitching to new catcher Yasmani Grandal. Mattingly has insisted he won't use A.J. Ellis as Kershaw's personal catcher this season, though the two have worked extensively together the past three seasons and Kershaw has praised Ellis' contributions to his success.
Both Kershaw and Grandal said Sunday was a good start to the synergy they're hoping to establish in the regular season. It was an up-close glimpse for Grandal into Kershaw's exacting standards.
"I mean, when I see a slider he throws, I'm thinking it's pretty good," Grandal said. "For him, it's pretty bad."
Part of Ellis' contribution to Kershaw's success involved executing pitching coach Rick Honeycutt's game plan: helping Kershaw exploit the hitters' weaknesses by calling the right pitches in the right situations. That way, Kershaw could concentrate on his delivery. Kershaw is hoping Grandal will get to a similar place, eventually.
"My routine's not going to change, so he'll get on board with that and we'll be good to go. He'll be fine," Kershaw said. "He'll figure it out. The more you work with somebody, the more comfortable you get. It was a good first step today, and we'll get there."