Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw hopes to dominate vs. Padres

Last week, Clayton Kershaw printed out copies of Major League Baseball’s postseason staple for his kids. They wanted to pick the winner for each series.

Their choice usually depended on which team had the better uniforms. Kershaw recalled that the kids liked the Seattle Mariners threads the most. Ultimately, it came down to who they wanted to face their father and the Dodgers in the World Series.

“Guys, we have to win first,” Kershaw told them.

The Dodgers’ attempt to match that goal for the fourth time in six years began Tuesday night with Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres. A year ago, the Dodgers failed without Kershaw. This year, they’ve entered a second straight season with the most wins in franchise history, and their future Hall of Fame pitcher is ready to start Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Kershaw was unavailable to help the Dodgers last October because an elbow injury he sustained the last weekend of the regular season left him a spectator. The Dodgers lost to the Atlanta Braves in six games of the NL Championship Series, in part because their starting rotation’s gas tank ran out.

Attention then shifted to Kershaw’s bleak future as a free agent. Would he sign with his hometown Texas Rangers or return to Los Angeles? Would he retire after 14 major league seasons?

The official answer came the day after his MLB suspension was lifted, when he signed a one-year deal to return to the Dodgers.

In the end, he said retirement was not seriously considered when he knew his elbow was healthy enough to play in 2022. He admitted he was seriously considering joining Rangers, who offered him a multi-year deal, but the allure of fighting for another world title on a world title favorite was too strong.

So there was Kershaw on Tuesday afternoon, sitting on a podium at Dodger Stadium at another postseason media session ahead of his scheduled start.

“Last year was disappointing,” said Kershaw, 34. “You want to be a part of it. They want to be there regardless – good or bad. You’d rather be in than not in. You want to be a part of it. That’s why we do it. It’s fun that way.”

Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson, left, celebrates with pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson, left, celebrates with pitcher Clayton Kershaw during a game against the Colorado Rockies October 3.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Just being a part of that was, in a way, an achievement for Kershaw. The left-hander was one of the top pitchers in the majors during the regular season when he was healthy. He compiled a 2.28 earned running average, his lowest since 2016, not counting the 2020 season shortened by the pandemic, and made his ninth All-Star Team. But he wasn’t healthy for the entire 162-game rut.

He ended up on the injury list twice this season, once in May and again in August. Both missions were due to back injuries and lasted just under a month. The timing worked in Kershaw’s favor. He attributed the result to luck.

“I don’t know if there have been adjustments or not,” Kershaw said. “I just think when I got injured it was better timing this year. … If you could figure out the injury thing, let me know.

Kershaw laughed as he spoke. He’s been more self-deprecating this season, more relaxed than in the past. He said the change stemmed from a discovery: he realized his world didn’t collapse as age and injuries forced him to alter his daily routine.

He had become one of history’s greatest pitchers because of his obsession with routine. Everything had to happen in a certain way at a certain time. And it worked. Why fix it if it ain’t broke? Then he had to adapt and that worked.

For example, after being left off the injury list on September 1, he pulled out of a late-season bullpen session in extreme heat the day before a start because he was tired. The next day he was fine on the hill. That would never have happened before. He would have prevailed, perhaps to his detriment.

Kershaw finished the regular season with a dominant seven-start stretch. He gave up seven runs in 41 innings. He compiled 49 strikeouts into eight walks. He reached the 162-game checkpoint healthy.

“This year just worked out in terms of timing,” Kershaw said.

This will see Kershaw serve in his 11th post-season career. The front nine ended in disappointment, some with Kershaw at the center of a heartbreaking meltdown. Playoff misfortune apparently haunted him every October, and the baseball world waited for Kershaw to struggle again in October.

That finally changed in 2020. For the first time there was no bitter end. Instead, the Dodgers won the World Series a 20-minute drive from his Dallas home.

Kershaw acknowledged that the breakthrough unloaded a burden he was carrying. It was the last time he fielded in a playoff game. He’s back on Wednesday to make sure his kids made the right choice. Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw hopes to dominate vs. Padres

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