CINCINNATI -- Clayton Kershaw has a nice feel for timing.
The reigning National League MVP said it was time to show more “urgency” when the Los Angeles Dodgers were stuck in the malaise of a five-game losing streak in which their bullpen and sputtering offense seemed to alternate blowing games one after the next.
It’s not a terrible idea to make a bold proclamation like that right before you go play a team that just lost nine in a row and has an all-rookie starting rotation.
Even if you see no connection between Kershaw’s comments Sunday and the Dodgers’ slump-busting 5-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday at Great American Ballpark, an entirely reasonable stance, no one was arguing with the ace’s point of view afterward.
Most of the Dodgers seemed to be aware of Kershaw’s words, probably because they were played repeatedly on SportsCenter Monday, an off day for the Dodgers in Cincinnati. Jimmy Rollins, who again had the wheel of the Dodgers’ offense Tuesday, said he agreed “100 percent” with the pitcher.
“It’s almost like cruise control a little bit at times,” Rollins said. “It isn’t because of lack of effort. Every team goes through that and it’s just the way it is. When you recognize it, it’s time to say, ‘All right guys, step it up and get back on the grind.’ The marathon part is over. It’s a sprint now and everyone’s jockeying for position. We’re up top and everyone’s gunning for that one spot. There’s really only one spot.”
Pitching well, catching the ball and driving pitches out of the stadium tend to make a team look like it feels a sense of urgency, and the Dodgers did all of the above Tuesday. Rollins had the big home run, a two-run shot in the sixth that gave the Dodgers a five-run lead, Alex Wood went 5 2/3 innings and, apparently, felt he should have gone longer judging by his dugout temper tantrum after manager Don Mattingly took him out of the game.
But probably the biggest development was five Dodgers relievers pitching in a game and only one of them allowing a run-scoring hit. The road trip has been a meat grinder for Dodgers relievers, but Tuesday they pieced it together. Mattingly, who called Tuesday “the first day of our season,” said Luis Avilan’s breaking pitch to Jay Bruce was the biggest out yet. Avilan struck Bruce out to leave the bases loaded in the eighth inning.
Mattingly certainly had an urgent need to get Wood out of the game with Todd Frazier coming to the plate with a runner on first and two outs in the sixth inning. Wood had thrown just 88 pitches to that point and had given up just four hits. He argued to stay in, then chucked his glove in the dugout when Mattingly pulled him anyway. Chris Hatcher gave up a run-scoring double, but there was no further damage over the next 3 1/3 innings.
Mattingly explained the quick hook. For one thing, the league is batting .322 off Wood the third time through the order. For another thing, Frazier is a dangerous right-handed hitter who had already doubled off Wood and taken some swings that Mattingly found alarming.
“His swings the first two times up, it seemed like he was right on pitches,” Mattingly said.
Wood was tight-lipped about his sixth-inning removal after the game, repeating that he was just happy the team won. Asked how he felt about his chances of getting Frazier out, Wood laughed and said, “I felt pretty good, but that’s how it goes sometimes.”
This is a pivotal series for the Dodgers, because their schedule gets tough again when it's over. They come home to play one of the hottest teams in baseball, the Chicago Cubs, then have their biggest series to date against the second-place San Francisco Giants. So, there’s another reason why Kershaw’s comments might have come at precisely the right time. They really don't have much time to be laissez faire.
“We have to show why we’re the better team every single night,” Rollins said. “You have to do that. You do that by doing your job, 25 guys coming together making sure that somehow you get that win."
Sounds like they're all on the same page in that regard.