LOS ANGELES -- One of the challenges for young players just getting acquainted with the major leagues is being thrown into competition with teammates who are not only much older but who can be unsympathetic to their learning curves.
Playing behind Clayton Kershaw can be a little stressful for young guys. It’s not that the Los Angeles Dodgers' ace isn’t a supportive teammate. Four out of five days, he’s one of the most engaged players on the bench, one of the quickest up for a high five when somebody does something to help the team.
It’s just that he’s a little intense on the days he takes the mound.
“When it’s Kershaw, you’ve got a little extra twitch, a little extra something in there,” Corey Seager said.
Another Dodgers rookie, Scott Schebler, who hit a late two-run home run in the Dodgers’ 4-1 win over the Colorado Rockies, said he had to count his breaths to slow his heartbeat late in the game. Schebler was starting to get a little anxious after striking out in his previous two at-bats.
“It had been a rough game and, I mean, with Kershaw on the mound, you know who’s on the mound and you’re like, ‘Wow, you’ve got to stay locked in every pitch,’" Schebler said.
The Dodgers are finding this blending of the future with the present is working out well as they try to clinch the National League West as quickly as possible so they can turn their attention to the first round of the playoffs. The two rookies provided most of the offense -- Seager was on base in three of his four plate appearances and has a 1.219 OPS in 11 games -- and Kershaw managed to pitch seven strong innings on a night when he described his performance as “not great all the way around.”
The Dodgers’ ace, who lowered his ERA to 2.12, said he, like everyone else who has been paying attention, has been impressed with Seager’s game so far.
“He’s swinging the bat great, and he made some plays defensively tonight,” Kershaw said. “He’s a great player, obviously the No. 1 prospect for a reason and he’s showing it. It’s pretty impressive.”
The Dodgers have made great lengths to improve their defense. Seager isn’t the equal of Jimmy Rollins when it comes to playing shortstop, but now that he has reached base in 25 of his 46 plate appearances, it’s worth asking whether the Dodgers can afford to take his bat out of their lineup when Rollins returns from a bruised finger, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.
All along, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has said the job will be Rollins’ when he’s ready. After Monday’s game, he changed his tone in a subtle, but perhaps meaningful, way. He said he didn’t want to talk about it. Rollins, 36, is batting .220 with a .250 on-base percentage.
“Right now, I take care of today. I don’t have to look forward. We know Jimmy’s not going to be ready to play tomorrow. Core’s going to be in the lineup,” Mattingly said. “I’m just going to keep trying to win a game that day.”
If Seager can keep his game at anywhere near the level it has been in his first two weeks in the big leagues, it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers not finding a spot for him in the lineup every day.
The Dodgers reduced their magic number to 12 to clinch the NL West, meaning it’s likely they’ll be able to turn their full attention to their playoff roster with at least five or six games to spare in the regular season. Before the game, Mattingly announced Kershaw and Zack Greinke, his co-aces, will remain on four days’ rest the remainder of the season. That would give each four more starts to jostle for the Cy Young Award and would line Kershaw up to pitch the final game of the regular season, Oct. 3 vs. San Diego.
Kershaw figures to start Game 1 of the playoffs since he is the only Dodgers starter they would consider using on three days’ rest. As for the Cy Young, Kershaw didn’t concede it, but he did give a bit of an indication which way he thinks it’s going. Greinke leads the majors in ERA (1.61) and WHIP (0.85) while Kershaw bumped his major league-best strikeout total to 264.
Kershaw has won three of the past four NL Cy Young Awards, and many people believe he was robbed the year he finished second in 2012.
“It’s not my main concern,” Kershaw said. “I don’t think Zack has too much to worry about, though.”