When Clayton Kershaw took the mound Friday night, the typically regimented rotation of his world was suddenly spinning upside down.
Off the field, the 35-year-old was under an unusually intense spotlight, thrusting himself into the middle of the Dodgers’ recent Pride Night controversy after publicly disagreeing with the team’s decision to honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — and pushing for the club’s relaunch of Christian Faith and Family Day — earlier in the week.
On the field, the three-time Cy Young Award winner hadn’t been in a great space either.
May was one of the worst months of the left-hander’s career, when he posted a 5.55 ERA in five starts (he pitched past the fifth inning only once). His command had disappeared, as well, leading to a bevy of walks and a barrage of questions about the pitcher’s uncharacteristic struggles.
“No one expects more from himself than Clayton, and especially the bar that he’s set for himself,” manager Dave Roberts said Friday afternoon, hours before first pitch. “Command is what’s made him great. So to see three or four outings where the command hasn’t been what it is, I think that’s frustrating for him.”
Ever the optimist, though, Roberts then offered a prediction.
“My bet,” he said, “is that it’s gonna be cleaned up.”
It indeed was, with Kershaw returning to form in the Dodgers’ 8-4 win over the New York Yankees at a sold-out Dodger Stadium.
While the offense broke out for a six-run first inning against Luis Severino that looked more like batting practice, it was Kershaw who guided the club the rest of the victory.
He pitched seven strong innings, giving up just two runs on four hits. He pounded the zone, striking out nine batters and throwing just 31 balls in 96 pitches.
Most of all, he performed more like his typical self, the one who padded his already Hall of Fame-caliber credentials by winning National League pitcher of the month in April — before his slide through an inconsistent May.
“Just feels good to pitch good,” Kershaw said postgame. “Definitely better than the last few. Was able to get deeper into the game.”
Kershaw’s week had started with highly scrutinized comments he made on Monday.
In an interview with The Times, Kershaw publicly explained his disagreement with honoring the Sisters, saying he felt the drag group was “making fun of other people’s religions” through their satirical portrayals of nuns and other Christian imagery.
In the four days since, Kershaw’s comments led to backlash from some but also made him one of several players and politicians who criticized the Dodgers’ decision to honor the LGBTQ+ support group during their Pride Night later this month.
Kershaw, however, said none of it affected his preparation for Friday.
“It’s baseball,” he said. “It’s what I know.”
That much was evident from the start, after taking the mound to a chorus of applause.
The offense spotted him a lead soon after. Mookie Betts hit a leadoff home run, one of his two long balls in a four-hit game. Max Muncy added a two-run blast. And by the time the six-run, eight-hit, 11-batter inning ended, Kershaw switched into cruise control over the rest of his bounce-back outing.
He mixed his slider and curveball well, inducing 13 total swinging strikes. When he left the mound for the last time, a season-high crowd of 52,534 rose to its feet.
“He was great,” Roberts said. “The stuff was what we’ve become accustomed to seeing.”
The Dodgers could use more of the same from Kershaw in the coming weeks.
They are still operating with a rotation featuring two rookies in Michael Grove and Bobby Miller, who will start Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Roberts also said Friday that struggling veteran Noah Syndergaard will stay in the rotation for now, getting a start Wednesday in Cincinnati despite a 6.54 ERA.
It means Kershaw, in addition to right-hander Tony Gonsolin, will have to help carry the load in the short-term — the way Kershaw has for much of his career as the Dodgers’ longtime ace.
“The guy [has] done it for so many years,” Roberts said. “That’s somebody that, when he takes the mound, you expect to win.”
In May, such a statement was starting to look untrue — leading to subtle doubts that even Kershaw acknowledged feeling himself.
“I think anybody, when you don’t pitch well, that’s just human nature,” he said.
But on Friday, despite his recent slump and self-invited scrutiny, he tapped back into the old dominant, reliable version of himself.
“Thankfully I had a good one tonight,” Kershaw said, before cracking a joke about his age in his 16th major league season. “Feels good to think I’m not old.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports