Clayton Kershaw even makes laboring look easy

SAN DIEGO -- Clayton Kershaw’s 10th pitch of the night Friday crossed the plate traveling 94 mph in one direction and 107 mph on its way back.

Justin Upton is a strong man and he got his arms extended on the pitch, hitting it flush on the barrel of his bat. The ball ricocheted directly off Kershaw’s left hip -- “pretty much the love-handle region,” he would say later -- and dribbled over to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who didn’t have time to get the out at first.

Game tracker would call the next minute or two an “injury delay,” but it was really just Kershaw telling trainer Stan Conte and manager Don Mattingly to go back to the dugout and catching a few breaths near first base. It didn’t look like there was any chance he would leave the game or even take a warm-up pitch or two to test out the pain in his side.

After the Los Angeles Dodgers had survived a sloppy 4-3 win over the San Diego Padres, he would say he was “fine” and insist the line drive off his body had nothing to do with fastball command that he said was “so bad tonight, my pitch count just kept going up and up and up.”

Maybe that’s the Texas tough guy in Kershaw, the pitcher who refuses to cling to anything that could be construed as an excuse, or maybe it really did have nothing to do with the fact he needed 117 pitches to get the game to two outs in the seventh inning. He kept throwing fastballs that, while they had plenty of zip on them at 94 and 95 mph, tended to drift up or away from the strike zone.

“Tonight seemed like a battle for him command-wise with his fastball and stuff,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “It just shows what kind of competitor he is that he fights and battles that whole game.”

Kershaw battling himself just doesn’t look like other pitchers battling themselves, at least not over the past month or so. Despite those less-than-flattering assessments of his ability to spot his pitches, Kershaw made only one costly mistake -- a hanging slider Clint Barmes hit for a home run in the seventh -- and his slider and curveball were so good that he struck out 11 Padres in 6 2/3 innings.

This is the time of year when Kershaw tends to start turning a good season into an epic season. Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the start of Kershaw’s 41-inning scoreless streak.

The command issue, of course, did play a part in this affair, costing Kershaw his sixth win of the season and fourth in his past four starts. Mattingly, worried about preserving his ace’s health, came and got him after the second out of the inning because of his season-high pitch count. The move worked until it didn’t. Reliever Yimi Garcia got what should have been an inning-ending infield pop-up from Wil Myers, but Garcia got in the middle of two converging infielders and ended up bumping into first baseman Justin Turner. The ball landed in the grass for an error on Turner, Derek Norris pounded the next pitch off the Western Metal Supply building and there went Kershaw’s decision.

Had Turner caught that ball, Kershaw likely would have had his 10th straight win in June -- including last June and June of 2013 -- which would have set a franchise record, at least since they started tracking things like that in 1946.

The Dodgers scored two eighth-inning runs, but it could have been more had Turner not been picked off second base after Jimmy Rollins’ aborted bunt attempt. Those things and the fact that Kershaw didn't get a win he deserved made for some mixed feelings afterward.

“I’m frustrated a little with our baseball fundamentals, just too many mistakes,” Mattingly said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a lot easier to talk about those mistakes with guys when you win. It’s easier to swallow a little criticism when you’re able to put a win on the board.”

The Dodgers came out of Friday’s win in a less-than-giddy mood. Adrian Gonzalez, who got ejected by plate umpire Doug Eddings in the seventh inning, complained about balls and strikes both on the field and to reporters afterward, saying Eddings tossed him because Gonzalez told him to “clean it up.” The Dodgers haven’t been shy about criticizing umpires’ strike zones this season. Catcher A.J. Ellis had a beef with Mike Winters on the last road trip to St. Louis, and Mattingly has been intermittently critical of the men in blue all season.

So, the sloppiness on the bases and in the field -- and the acrimony near the plate -- took a little of the joy out of Friday’s win, but there was one nice dynamic to it: Afterward, nobody was asking what’s wrong with Kershaw. In fact, it’s been a while since that line of questions has come up.