LOS ANGELES -- As the Los Angeles Dodgers were batting in the bottom of the eighth inning on Wednesday, a three-way debate was going on in the home dugout.
Manager Don Mattingly was the voice of moderation. Clayton Kershaw had already thrown 105 pitches. Why risk sending him out for the ninth inning and needlessly taxing the team's best pitcher in a 5-0 July shutout when any middling reliever could easily nail this one down.
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and Kershaw had the counterpoint, and they must have made some salient points because Mattingly let himself be outvoted.
"At some point, we're going to let him roll," Mattingly said. "He and Zack [Greinke], these are our guys. We're going to let them roll at some point. This was probably the right day for it."
So, Kershaw got what he's been so intent upon all season -- a complete game. It got dicey when Maikel Franco lined a double leading off the ninth, but Kershaw struck out the final two batters to finish off his 2015 masterpiece: a 13-strikeout, no-walk shutout.
Unlike the man who could currently be labeled Kershaw's "co-ace," Zack Greinke, who approaches things pragmatically and is perfectly willing to exit after 100 pitches, Kershaw has the old-school Texas thing going. And all season long, his greatest disappointment has been the fact he wasn't giving the Dodgers' bullpen enough rest on nights he starts. Kershaw claims a pitcher's most important stat is innings pitched and those, compared to 2014, were down.
So, Mattingly let him roll, he threw a season-high 123 pitches, but he got his complete game. Sandy Koufax, who threw 27 of those in each of his final two seasons, would have been proud.
"To throw a complete game, to shake a guy's hand at the end of the game, that's what Sandy always said is the goal," Kershaw said.
If ever there was a night to let a pitcher extend his pitch count, this was it. Kershaw won't make another start before the All-Star break, and, at the moment, it looks like he might be sitting in his living room rather than the Great American Ballpark dugout when the All-Star Game begins. He's fourth in the first round of fan voting for the Final Vote competition. The players and National League manager Bruce Bochy didn't see fit to name Kershaw to the National League roster, which looks even sillier after Kershaw extended his major league-leading strikeout total to 160 and lowered his ERA to 2.85.
Throw out his 6-6 won-loss record, the product of awful run support for the past month, and there is practically no justification for leaving Kershaw off the team. You've got to figure Major League Baseball will find a way to get one of its biggest stars on its midsummer stage, whether it's via the fan vote or because somebody bows out.
"Hopefully, Major League Baseball gets to see this guy pitch in Cincinnati next week," catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Kershaw is old-school in another regard. Assuming he makes 34 starts this season, he is on pace to strike out 302 batters in 2015. That would make him the first major league pitcher to strike out as many as 300 guys in a season since Randy Johnson struck out 334 in 2002.
Quite a down year for Kershaw, huh?
In his previous four starts, all Dodgers losses, Kershaw had struck out 35 batters, walked five and held opponents to a .212 batting average. In none of those games did the Dodgers score more than one run while Kershaw was in the game. On Wednesday, he looked up after jogging to the mound in the fourth inning and saw five runs on the board. Ellis and Jimmy Rollins had finally given him something to work with by mashing early home runs off young Phillies pitcher Adam Morgan.
Run support. What do you do with that? Apparently, he hadn't forgotten.
"It doesn't affect a whole lot for me, personally. Maybe in the back of your head you're maybe thinking, 'All right, no walks, just go attack even more than usual,'" Kershaw said. "If they're going to beat you, make it be hits and don't keep your defenders out there too long and try to get through innings as quick as possible."