LOS ANGELES -- The box score had Clayton Kershaw down as the winning pitcher after the Dodgers' 9-5 home opening win against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he won't be able to pitch the way he did Tuesday and come away with many wins.
"I didn't pitch very well obviously," said Kershaw, who was being hard on himself after allowing two runs and three hits in 5 1/3 innings. "I'm happy to get the team a win but I'd rather they win because of me, not in spite of me."
After throwing only four pitches out of the strike zone in the first inning, Kershaw reverted to his uncontrolled ways of late, finishing with 59 strikes and 51 balls on 110 pitches. Kershaw has walked 11 batters in 10 innings this season and his inability to get batters out when he falls behind in the count continues to be the one thing holding him back from becoming the ace on a staff that desperately needs one.
"He's done this before and he's not the only pitcher that all of a sudden throws five or six balls in a row," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "The one thing I give him a lot of credit for is he had Kelly Johnson with two men on base, three balls, no strikes and he strikes him out. That's an indication of what this kid is made of to me. He's certainly someone we trust. He'll get it smoothed out. I'm just happy he was able to hang in there."
Kershaw often put himself in binds he didn't need to be in. He walked the first two batters in the top of the fifth and sixth innings, including No. 8 hitter Chris Snyder and pitcher Ian Kennedy, and hit infielder Stephen Drew and was clearly laboring after the fourth inning where he had only given up three hits and one run.
"After the first couple batters in the fifth inning I really felt I was getting breaking balls over and I felt confident after I got that first out in the fifth," Kershaw said. "I settled in fine but it took two or three batters which you can't do. The main thing that's frustrating for me is I don't want to have to battle. I know I can get people out but I'm giving people free bases and free passes. I'm pretty much beating myself up out there. I'm not making them beat me and that's something I have to work on."
Normally a 22-year-old pitcher would be able to have these kinds of growing pains without making headlines, but Kershaw isn't your normal third-year pitcher. He is the X-factor on a Dodgers pitching staff with more question marks than a Riddler costume. If Kershaw is able to get some control on his pitches and significantly lower his pitch count, the Dodgers may have finally found their ace. Until then, they must continue relying on a shaky bullpen to bridge the gap between the starter and closer Jonathan Broxton.
"The thing we need to get straightened out is how we get to Broxton," said Torre. The bullpen "is a concern at this point in time."
As Torre took off his shoes behind his desk after the game, recalling Kershaw's unraveling in the fifth and sixth innings, he realized much of the pressure placed upon his young lefty was because of an off-handed comparison he made between Kershaw and another Dodgers lefty that made national headlines.
"I made the comparison to [Sandy] Koufax only because he threw a great fastball and a great curveball," Torre said. "Sandy didn't really didn't get an opportunity until he was a lot older than Clayton is right now."
Still, Torre is optimistic about Kershaw's ability to change his pitches when he struggles.
"Before when he got behind in the count, and even now, hitters look for his fastball because it's such a lethal weapon for him," Torre said. "The first part of last year, when he got behind in the count, it was all fastballs and the hitters -- I don't care how hard you throw it -- will be able to hit. So he came up with the slider, and it gets them off sitting on one pitch."
Kershaw lost control of his fastball against Arizona and never got his rhythm back after the fourth inning. But he got himself out of a couple of jams with the slider and changeup he added to his repertoire toward the end of last season.
"His slider's been a great pitch for him and he's not afraid to throw it anytime -- that and the changeup,"
Torre said. "Just because he's struggling throwing strikes he does not throw any of those pitches away; he still uses them. What you're seeing now is a matter of growing and getting through stuff like this. The one thing we know about him the last couple of years is he never really loses his composure. He may speed up and get anxious but it's not because he's afraid of the situation."
But after his first win in nine months, Kershaw didn't care about any of that as he stormed out of the clubhouse Tuesday.
"I don't think it's anything mechanically that I'm doing," Kershaw said. "I just think sometimes I get out of sync and out of rhythm and that leads to the control issues and that's something I need to continue to work on."
Arash Markazi is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.