Before stepping out of the dressing room in what were once white sneakers in the colors of his two eldest children, Clayton Kershaw imagined how he would feel when he woke up on Wednesday morning.
“I mean, I certainly don’t feel like pitching tomorrow,” Kershaw said with a smile.
Kershaw is now 35 years old. He’s not recovering as well as he did when he entered the major leagues, which Freddie Freeman pointed out was a long time ago.
“He’s been doing this for the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2008,” Freeman said.
The were seven shutout innings in a 2-0 away win over the Angels on Tuesday night.
The just delivered the fifth win in 15 games for the Dodgers, who have an injury-plagued rotation and a collapsing bullpen.
“I just don’t see a better competitor than Clayton Kershaw,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
Roberts specifically pointed to the seventh inning, where the Angels had runners on second and third base with no outs.
What played out was a sequence that played out countless times in Kershaw’s 16-year career. How Kershaw escaped adversity exemplified what sets him apart from almost every other pitcher of his generation.
After a leadoff single by Brandon Drury and a double by Hunter Renfroe, he forced Kevin Padlo to come up short. With the runners still tied for second and third place, he beat Chad Wallach with a full count slider. He went to Luis Rengifo to load the bases but forced Andrew Velazquez to come up short.
The inning was over and the game remained scoreless.
“He’s really tough,” said catcher Will Smith. “He competes but never gives up.”
“I mean, what’s the alternative?” said Kershaw. “I think the alternative is to give in.”
He continued: “Obviously you have to backtrack a little. But at the end of the day I always think about the next pitch. I always try. Just try to make the next pitch. Nothing can be done about the latter. Just keep going on the next pitch until they get you out. Sometimes it’s harder than elsewhere, but just try to breathe and think about the next pitch.”
Freeman said, “I feel like he’s been able to make the ‘next pitch’ for 15 years.”
This approach has resulted in 206 regular-season wins in his career.
He should earn his 10th He is eligible for an All-Star Game this year because he is 9-4 and has an earned run average of 2.72.
Now, eight years from his last 30-starting season, Kershaw is the only Dodgers pitcher to have completed each of his moves in the rotation this year.
Of the four other pitchers in the opening day roster, three are on the injury list – Julio Urías, Noah Syndergaard and Dustin May. The other, Michael Grove, was previously on the injury list and currently plays in the minor leagues.
“Right now,” Roberts said, “he’s the only one left from opening day.”
Who would have thought?
Even Roberts admitted he was surprised at how dependent the Dodgers were on Kershaw that year.
“But with that, Clayton was sort of the stopper every time he started,” said Roberts.
Kershaw said he understands the responsibilities he has as the rotation’s elder statesman but that it doesn’t affect how he tries to navigate the games.
“It’s our job to get out there and get deep into the game every time,” he said. “Well, with the young guys that we have on our team – who actually looked really good and pitched really well for us – but overall you’d think the younger guys pitched less and wouldn’t get as far, so I did Understand that.”
As for health, Kershaw said it was the best he’d felt in years.
“I’m not feeling really bad this year,” he said. “Maybe it’s been worse the last few years but this year I’m actually feeling pretty good getting back on my feet and I’ve been trying my best to figure out how to handle the workload and things like that . So maybe not throwing a bullpen for quite that long or other things. But overall I have the feeling that I’m doing better this year than maybe in recent years.”
Given how Kershaw was feeling, was he ready to announce he would be returning next year?
“Not quite yet,” he said.