While Spring Training is often a time in which the established players on a team simply work on getting ready for the season without paying much attention to the results, Los Angeles Dodgers' ace Clayton Kershaw seemed to be frustrated with his performance so far, saying to SNLA's Alanna Rizzo:
“Anytime you pitch poorly, there is concern.”
Most pitchers will indicate that they are not worried with results, as they are simply working on building up arm strength and are not looking to give batters any advantage by showing them all of their stuff or using the same approach as they would in the regular season. While this may be the case with Kershaw, control has been a major issue, and the two-time Cy Young winner has said that he “hasn’t felt good yet.”
Is it time for the Dodgers to be concerned with Kershaw’s performance? Both manager Don Mattingly and catcher A.J. Ellis indicated that there is no reason to panic, with Mattingly noting to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
“The first two innings [against the Oakland A's] were really good, then he got out of rhythm and couldn't find it. Good thing is, it's Spring Training, that's why we're here. He had the same kind of spring last year. He has a level of expectation of always being good. I don't have a problem with that. He expects to be in midseason form, and we keep working toward that."
A.J. Ellis, though no doubt unconcerned, did raise a potential issue, pointing out that Kershaw is pitching to compete in spring games, not to prepare, saying to Gurnick:
"Clayton's not one for thinking about a quality work day. He's a pretty simple guy. He comes to pitch. He's not working on things, he does that in bullpen sessions. In a game situation, for him it's time to compete."
In his four innings of work this spring, Kershaw has been incredibly up and down. Against the A’s, he threw two perfect innings to start the game, then followed it up with a third in which he could not get anyone out. In that inning, he walked three batters and gave up two hits. On the spring, Kershaw has walked four while giving up seven hits and eight runs.
The Dodgers entered the spring with concerns over Kershaw’s 2013 workload and how it affected him late in the playoffs. In his final game against the St. Louis Cardinals during the NLCS, Kershaw was knocked around and could not pitch out of trouble. The third inning against the A’s looked eerily similar.
Further complicating matters is the fact that the Dodgers have an abbreviated spring schedule due to the early games being played in Australia against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers have internally discussed holding Kershaw back from the trip as a way to manage his innings in the early portion of the season, much to the dismay of Australian officials. If Kershaw needs some time to work things out, it may be even more likely that the Dodgers keep Kershaw off the plane to Australia.
Despite the fact that Kershaw is currently holding an 18.00 ERA and an opponent’s batting average of .368, he remains the best and most talented pitcher in all of baseball. While the Dodgers are justified in being concerned over the ace’s workload, they should not be concerned with his spring performance. Given how early it is and the small sample size that Kershaw has worked so far, there is little reason for anyone to worry about the talented lefty at this time.
Kershaw, who is known for his intensity in all competitive contests (including ping pong), is very likely to fine-tune whatever issues are causing his lack of command. By Opening Day, it is fair to expect that Kershaw will be ready to defend both his ERA title and his Cy Young title, while hopefully leading the Dodgers back to the playoffs.
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