Kershaw and the pursuit of perfection

MIAMI -- Only Clayton Kershaw could come away from a game in which he shut out the Miami Marlins for eight innings, allowed just five hits and struck out six, and pronounce his performance "terrible."

Only Clayton Kershaw would say that because there’s really only one Clayton Kershaw.

The Dodgers' ace has been so consistently good this season, a couple of rough innings to start off a game qualify for a postgame self-critique.

Mind you, he still got out of said rough innings without giving up a run. But by Kershaw standards, we can apply the term “rough” to the first couple innings when the Marlins actually threatened to score and it took a couple of slick fielding plays from second baseman Skip Schumaker and shortstop Nick Punto to get out of the jams.

"It was terrible the first couple innings. I didn't have command, I couldn’t throw strikes," Kershaw said. "I didn’t necessarily find it. I didn’t have great stuff today. I was a little fortunate to get those double-play balls and I was able to throw enough strikes when I needed to.

"The game could’ve been out of hand pretty quickly in the first couple innings. It’s definitely something that I look at and try to improve on for the next start."

Remember, after reading that quote, that Kershaw is now 13-7 with a minuscule 1.72 ERA and leads the majors with 12 games of at least eight innings pitched.

Remember too, though, that his attention to detail, perfectionism and competitiveness are kind of how he’s gotten to where he is in just his fifth season in the big leagues.

Only Kershaw knows where his ceiling is. Heck, even he might not know. But wherever it is, he’s going to push himself relentlessly to get there.

Before Thursday’s game, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly used a term historically reserved for Albert Pujols to describe Kershaw’s approach and results.

"He’s a machine," Mattingly said. "What I enjoy with Clayton is that it’s every pitch, every batter, no matter what the score is, he attacks, he’s focused, he’s not wanting to make one bad pitch, not wanting to let any runners on. He just wants to execute, execute, execute. That’s tough to do over a long season."

Games like Thursday are the perfect illustration. You’re not always going to have great fastball command. You’re not always going to feel completely in sync with a 12:40 p.m. Eastern first pitch. It’s those games where Kershaw’s approach and preparation pay dividends.

To prepare for the early start time, he started going to bed early two days in advance.

"I felt prepared and ready to where that shouldn’t have been an excuse," he said simply.

Not many South Floridians were able to make the matinee. Tickets were selling for $5, a fraction of what it costs to park in the stadium or buy a Cuban sandwich at one of the concessions kiosks.

Kershaw wasn’t at his best, either. But perhaps that’s exactly why he’s become one of baseball’s best pitchers so quickly.

He's found a way to win the games when neither the atmosphere, nor the fare he’s serving up, is all that exciting.

"Pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, game to game. That’s how you have to look at it,” Kershaw said. “It sounds cliché, people say it all the time, but you gotta think that way otherwise you get ahead of yourself."