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Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw at Risk in 132-Pitch Win?

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Wed, May 15, 2013 at 11:39 AM

click to enlarge DAVID BLUMENKRANTZ

Clayton Kershaw is as close to deity as anyone in baseball, and he's getting closer with each passing five-day period. He's a god, let's face it. The man walks on dirt.

And I am his groupie. In fact, I've worked it out with The Main Squeeze and it's decided. We're naming our first-born male child Clayton. Actually, we're naming our first born child Clayton, male or female.

Kershaw spun a game for the regular-season ages Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium (which, if played in October we'd be talking about for generations), pitching 8 2/3 innings of shutout ball, scattering five singles, allowing but one free pass while striking out 11. Kenley Jansen came on to blow away Tyler Moore for the save, the Dodgers had their 2-0 victory, and Kershaw will get an extra day of rest after making 132 pitches to get to within one out of a complete game.

And as I keep saying (here and here, for two examples) all comparisons to Sandy Koufax are on the table. The problem is, Koufax was toast at 30, and what a shame it would be for the same fate to befall Clayton Kershaw, who's 25 now. But then again, maybe we're looking at a career so special that with a couple of Cy Young Awards added, perhaps an MVP and most especially, a World Series championship or three; that five more and done is A-OK. Kersh at 30 would have played 11 years, hopefully all in Los Angeles; Koufax lasted 12.

ESPN.com's David Schoenfield, who I admire greatly, suggests we not "freak out over Kerhshaw's 132 pitches." I say freak the hell out. And speaking of Freak, how are Tim Lincecum's career prospects looking right about now? While there are no 132-pitch games on his resume, Lincecum made plenty of high-pitch efforts, many of them with a stellar bullpen ready to back him up. Fine, so Lincecum is slight of frame, the torque thing (blah, blah, blah) and Kersh is a strapping 6' 3" and 220 and basically a stud. It's a discussion worth having because the Dodgers have blown out their fair share of arms in the past (see Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser and even poor Darren Dreifort). So excuse me while I freak the hell out.

My Twitter companions threw the where's the "evidence of a pitch count threshold for injury" question at me last night, with follow-ups like "provide me with evidence that he's more likely to get hurt on pitch 130 than pitch 110." And I play the "you wait for the research and I'll pull my ace in a May game, while I'm in last place, and I've got the closer everyone's clamoring for ready to get the three lousy outs" card. Because clearly, there's a bunch of scientists sitting in a university basement someplace, and the smartest guy in room pipes up with, "hey guys, forget the silly cancer and AIDS and diabetes and spinal cord stuff; we've got to tackle this pitch count thing!"

Look, outside of sex and money, less is always better than more. Always. Kershaw's unfinished symphony of eight innings and 114 pitches was yeoman-like enough. The extraneous 18 pitches for two outs was a risk not work taking. I'm apparently alone in my thinking this morning and there will be no proving the argument one way or the other. But I see a trend with this particular manager, in the way he deals with health of his players (or "charges," as I call them) and I don't like it. Fine, so I'm alone on that score too. More about this in subsequent posts, and in past ones.

Zack Greinke makes his record-time comeback from collarbone surgery tonight, to the surprise of no one paying attention closely. Greinke's manager -- his direct supervisor -- Don Mattingly, has set it up so that if disaster strikes he'll be able to say "talk to the doctors, don't blame me" and if not sleep well afterwards, at least divest himself of responsibility to some degree.

Greinke's being advised to avoid collisions and diving for the ball if at all possible, and may not swing the bat while the pitcher grooves three batting-practice non-heaters straight down Broadway. Never mind the stage; that's going to look lovely on television for three trips to the plate tonight, if he gets that far.

Los Angeles needs Greinke back as soon as possible, with wins coming in bunches. The team's "number 1-A" could go five or six uneventful innings before giving the ball to the mostly-rested bullpen, and if all goes well the Dodgers will have back-to-back series wins for the third time in 2013. And Kershaw might toss a Greg Maddux-like 85 pitches in his next game May 20 at Milwaukee, or benefit as his club scores enough for him to take a relatively-early shower, confident in his fifth win.

Perhaps this is much ado about nothing, and I've freaked the hell out for no good reason. Maybe Kershaw will pitch four no-hitters, lead his Dodgers to Fall glory in multiple seasons and waltz his way into Cooperstown in the year 2028, without ever having had an arm injury to come back from.

I think that's asking a bit much, and suggest that the city's most precious resource be protected as such. And for once, I'll gladly trot out the baseball cliché I usually cringe upon hearing, and suggest we heed as advice -- "it's only May." It's only May, people; not the time for 132 pitches just to remain a game out of fourth place. Let's think about October instead, shall we, and for years to come.

Notes:

Fascinating stuff from Eric Stephen on the first 1000 innings of Kershaw's career.

From the oh-by-the-way department, it looks like Jansen is in as closer, and Brandon League is out. Analysis from Steve Dilbeck.

And check this great paragraph from Mark Saxon: "That's the beauty of having a pitcher as good as Clayton Kershaw. When he is rolling as he was Tuesday night, he slows down the game for everybody around him. Not in the way Josh Beckett slows down the game, in a literal sense, but in the way Kershaw does. It's a simpler day of work, the requisite task more well-defined."

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