There was little mystery to Clayton Kershaw’s mastery of the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night. The Dodgers left-hander pounded the strike zone, was pitch-efficient and induced plenty of soft contact while allowing one hit in six innings of a 5-0 victory in Coors Field.
The real intrigue came after a game in which Dodgers slugger J.D. Martinez became the 156th major leaguer to hit 300 home runs, when manager Dave Roberts said Kershaw experienced considerable “fatigue” after losing a no-hit bid with two outs in the sixth inning and Kershaw demurred when asked if he was hurt.
“We’ll kind of see [Wednesday], I’ll give an update on how I’m doing,” Kershaw said after improving to 10-4 with a 2.55 ERA on the season and 4-1 with a 1.09 ERA in his last five starts. “For right now, I don’t think it’s too serious. I don’t think I’ll miss a start. I should be all right.”
Kershaw was holding one of his young sons as he spoke to reporters, so it appeared the lower-back problems that sent him to the injured list twice last season were not an issue. The three-time National League Cy Young Award winner also missed the final two months of the 2021 season and the playoffs because of an elbow injury.
But when asked to be more specific, Kershaw again hedged, saying, “Let me get to [Wednesday] and figure everything out. I’m not trying to be sneaky. I’m just trying to get through [Wednesday] and see where I’m at. Maybe there’s nothing to report. That’ll be good.”
Kershaw faced the minimum 18 batters over six innings and threw only 79 pitches, but they were at high altitude on a 90-degree night, conditions that would tax any pitcher, let alone a 35-year-old with 2,676 career innings under his belt.
“I just didn’t feel great overall — that last inning kind of got to me,” Kershaw said. “I definitely should have gone deeper in the game and feel bad about making the bullpen cover three innings. I just needed to come out there.”
That was clear to Roberts, who said he could tell by Kershaw’s body language that the pitcher had “emptied the gas tank.”
Would Roberts have pulled Kershaw if No. 9 batter Brenton Doyle had not rifled a single to left field with two outs in the sixth for Colorado’s first hit of the game?
“That would have been a harder conversation — that’s my answer,” Roberts said. “The [low] pitch count for me doesn’t matter. It’s still up and down six times in altitude. He hasn’t pitched here in a year. We’ve ridden him hard this year, and he had a heavy workload leading up to the start. All of that stuff plays a factor.”
Was Kershaw, who retired the first 12 batters of the game before walking Elias Diaz to lead off the fifth, relieved after giving up Doyle’s hit, seeing as it took a difficult decision for his manager out of play?
“I definitely would have kept pitching if I had a no-hitter,” said Kershaw, the only pitcher from the team’s opening-day rotation to not go on the injured list. “For sure.”
While Kershaw was attempting to become only the second pitcher to throw a no-hitter in baseball’s most hitter-friendly park — former Dodgers right-hander Hideo Nomo accomplished the feat on Sept. 17, 1996 — Martinez actually made history with his two-run homer in the third inning and solo shot in the sixth.
Martinez, one of the team’s hottest hitters in late May and early June, had gone cold since hitting his 298th homer in Philadelphia on June 10, batting .163 with a .459 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and one RBI in his previous 12 games.
But the designated hitter warmed to the conditions in Coors Field, driving an up-and-away fastball from starter Connor Seabold 391 feet to right field for homer No. 299 and a first-pitch slider from reliever Brad Hand 384 to left field for No. 300, his 17th and 18th homers of the season and 21st multihomer game of his career.
“It’s a blessing,” Martinez said. “Honestly, from where I started, with my whole story of getting released by Houston [after 2013] and getting the chance with Detroit, and them believing in me, and the help of Craig [Wallenbrock, private hitting instructor] and Robert [Van Scoyoc, Dodgers hitting coach] kind of changing my whole career, it means a lot to us. At that time, I would have never guessed it.”
Van Scoyoc and Wallenbrock oversaw a dramatic swing change that helped transform Martinez from a hitter with 15-homer potential to a slugger who hit 43 homers and drove in 130 runs for the World Series-winning Boston Red Sox in 2018. That made Van Scoyoc’s speech during a postgame champagne toast all the more meaningful for Martinez.
“He’s like a little brother to me, so it means a lot,” Martinez, 35, said of Van Scoyoc. “Back in Detroit, when everyone was saying I could hit 300 home runs, he goes, ‘I want 400.’ And I was like, ‘400? You crazy.’ So we’d always laugh about it.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports