Clayton Kershaw continues to do legendary stuff for Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- So when is it no longer blasphemy to say that Clayton Kershaw is not only the best Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher since Sandy Koufax but is actually better?

Maybe when Kershaw fires four no-hitters and a perfect game, it would be apt. Perhaps when he wins a World Series, it would be more accepted.

But watch Kershaw dominate modern-day lineups and it seems possible to make a legitimate comparison.

The team’s current left-handed ace was at it again Thursday, completely dominating the New York Mets in a 5-0 victory. It was Kershaw’s second consecutive complete-game shutout at home, and the 14th of his career. He allowed just three hits, the first in the fourth inning, and the last with two out in the ninth.

And with 96 pitches through eight innings Thursday, manager Dave Roberts never really considered letting anybody else finish the game.

“I just felt that where he was at with his pitch count and the way the ball was coming out of his hand [he would pitch the ninth],” Roberts said. “You can see his demeanor. For me, I kind of look at the way he is on the mound, the way the ball is coming out, and it just made sense that I would leave him in there.”

Roberts’ decision allowed Kershaw to accomplish the goal he sets out for himself every fifth game.

“Shake the catcher’s hand -- that’s always the goal,” Kershaw said of the act immediately following the conclusion of a complete game. “It feels good, for sure. You can’t really do any more than pitch nine innings, so that’s your goal every time out and when you do it. That’s a good feeling, for sure.”

Kershaw is now 5-1 on the season with a 1.74 ERA. His 13 strikeouts against the Mets gave him a baseball-best 77. And after his 250th career start, the nine-year veteran has a 2.40 ERA over 1,673 innings.

His only blemish this season is a five-run inning to the Miami Marlins last month in his only loss. Take out that one frame, when Yasmani Grandal was behind the plate, and Kershaw has a 1.03 ERA.

The Kershaw-Grandal pairing found a bit of redemption Thursday with the shutout. It was just the second time they have been paired together this season. The Kershaw-A.J. Ellis bond has been well documented, but as Ellis said earlier this year, a sportswriter could probably sit behind the plate for a Kershaw start and it would still be an effective one.

“It’s different catchers, obviously, but we go over our game plan before the game,” Kershaw said. “Yas is great back there, and obviously A.J. and I have been doing it for a long time. It’s good either way.”

“Good” is an understatement. Even the opponent had nothing but praise for Kershaw after he reached double digits in strikeouts for a Dodgers-record fifth consecutive game. Koufax did that in only four straight, if on five separate occasions.

“He threw some sliders that you’re just not going to hit them,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “They’re coming in middle of the zone and then disappearing. He was on his game tonight. For sure, you can’t let him have a lead like he had.”

That lead was a four-run first inning from the Dodgers against Mets starter Bartolo Colon. And if there was any doubt that Grandal was the right pairing for Kershaw, it was removed when Grandal smashed a three-run home run in that frame. By the time Chase Utley hit a home run in the second inning, Kershaw had more than enough run support.

In another ridiculous stat showing just how good Kershaw has been over his career, when the Dodgers score four runs for him while he is still on the mound, the team is 81-0.

Want another impressive stat? To go with his 77 strikeouts, Kershaw has allowed only four walks. Teams know he is going to be near the plate, yet his breaking pitches, and the ability to change speeds from a high 90-mph fastball to a mid-70s curve, are too befuddling.

Kershaw has always had a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he never has delivered something like this. Over his past four starts he has 47 strikeouts and just one free pass, in the first inning to David Wright. Kershaw eventually struck out Wright to end the game.

Is it better command or better smarts?

“I’m definitely not being smarter,” Kershaw said. “I don’t know how to explain it other than walking guys is how you get in trouble. For me, I’d rather have them string hits together and make them swing the bats to beat me. That’s just always my mentality.

“You want them to beat you, so I’m just going to hopefully attack them. Fortunately my mechanics have felt pretty solid all season, and I am able to repeat pitches pretty consistently. But definitely not smarter, for sure.”

That isn’t true, of course. Kershaw is plenty smart to know that while he is getting strikeouts in bunches these days, including 301 of them last season, it does no good to obsess about them.

“As long as you keep your pitch count down, it doesn’t matter how you get outs,” he said. “As long as it’s weak contact, quick outs. Tonight I was able to get deep into the game. Strikeouts are just kind of a byproduct. It’s not that important in the grand scheme of things, for sure.”

It’s also not important to chase Koufax’s accomplishments, either, but Kershaw appreciates the comparisons.

“Any time you’re associated with [Koufax] it’s great, but strikeouts are strikeouts -- it doesn’t really matter,” Kershaw said. “But to be put in the same sentence with him, you don’t take it for granted, for sure.”