Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet. At just 25 years of age, he has won two of the last three Cy Young awards and could make a very convincing case that he deserved a third. So why wouldn’t the Los Angeles Dodgers use him every time he was available? Perhaps they learned their lesson after Kershaw’s final start of the postseason resulted in an unfortunate and uncharacteristic shellacking at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. In the time since, it has been speculated that either Kershaw suffered from the lingering fatigue of pitching on short rest during the NLDS, or that the Cardinal hitters benefited from stolen signs. Kershaw, never one to shirk responsibility, said this back in October:
"I don't have an answer. I just wasn't good enough."
It is the mentality that is exemplified in this statement that gives a bit of insight into what makes Kershaw so great. So, when he was asked at Spring Training about his potential workload for the upcoming season, Kershaw’s response demonstrated his competitiveness, and was predictably made with his responsibility as a player in mind:
“I’ll pitch whenever they tell me to. I don’t care when or where.”
Counting the postseason, Kershaw pitched 259 innings in 2013, exceeding his previous high by a wide margin. The Dodgers, who did an admirable job in acclimating Kershaw to the length of the Major League season when he broke in as a 20-year-old rookie, may be concerned with his innings count, regardless of Kershaw’s perception. Don Mattingly, who was asked if Kershaw could pitch three of the Dodgers’ first six games of the season (due to the Australia trip), told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that it may be too much to ask of the club’s ace, saying:
"I feel like it is [too much]," Mattingly said. "We have to be very mindful of Clayton and the number of innings he pitched last year — and the short winter. It's not being cautious or babying him, but being mindful of him. He's a workhorse, he pitches deep into games. We have to take care of him, give him an inning off here and there when we can."
Perhaps this is why Ned Colletti aggressively pursued nearly every available free-agent starting pitcher this winter. It may also be the reason why the Dodgers spent over $21 million on their bullpen this offseason. Assuring that Kershaw does not need to make extra starts this year – he has made over 30 in each of the past five seasons – while also giving him the confidence that the bullpen can carry their share of the workload, keeps him fresh heading into the postseason, where the Dodgers and Kershaw hope to have more success.
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