Monday, May 26, 2008

For The Dodgers, The Clayton Kershaw Era Begins Today

20-year-old lefty phenom Clayton Kershaw holds the St. Louis Cardinals to 2 runs in 6 innings in his Major League debut at Dodger Stadium.

The future, as we know it, begins today.

Billed as the second coming of Sandy Koufax, the arrival of Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles has, for some, been more anticipated than this week's arrival of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And with Kershaw's near-dominating start against the National League leading St. Louis Cardinals, apparently all the pre-premier hype was right on the money.

The six-three Kershaw, the Dodgers' number one pick in the June amateur draft just two years ago, has been compared to Koufax so often that the expectation might be one of acceptance at being the next great lefty in Dodger history. So far, the Dallas native will have nothing of it.

"It just means somebody thinks highly of you. I put enough pressure on myself, I don't worry about what other people think or say or talk about."

Kershaw's new catcher, All-Star Russell Martin, has this to say about the rookie.

"He doesn't look scared, he's not tentative in any way." And, "[He throws] the best curveball I've ever caught."

For the record, Kershaw allowed two runs on five hits over six innings, walking one while striking out 7. Kershaw threw 102 pitches. He left the game with his team leading 3-2, and had no decision in the game won by the Dodgers in 10 innings 4-3. Kershaw struck out the side in the top of the 1st inning, allowing a run on an Albert Pujols double that was misplayed by Dodger left fielder Juan Pierre. Throwing 32 pitches in his first Major League inning, the pitcher, who only two years ago was still a senior at Highland Park High School in Dallas, settled down. He allowed just one more run, in the 6th inning, and worked out of a two on-two out jam, retiring catcher Jason LaRue on a fly ball to Pierre to end the inning.

And as for the next appearance for The Future of the Franchise? Manager Joe Torre has already said Kershaw will remain in the starting rotation, "as long as results justified it." Based on today, the next time will be this Friday night, in New York, against the Mets.

From now on, the spotlight on Kershaw only grows bigger and brighter.

In spring training, Torre has to stop himself, just short of comparing the then 19-year-old to the greatest left-handed pitcher in Dodger (if not all baseball) history. Reminded that Kershaw only has two pitches, a mid to upper 90's fastball and that nasty 12-6 curve, Torre, who faced Koufax often during his own big-league career, said:

"There was a left-handed pitcher in this organization with only a fastball and curve and he was pretty good," said Torre. "But I don't want to put that kind of pressure on him. He's not too far away from the changeup. He's got it; it's a matter of locating it."

Just ask the Cardinals if Kershaw's "got it". And in five more days, ask the Mets. You could ask Koufax, who spent this spring mentoring the composed-beyond-his-years kid, but Koufax doesn't do media.

Baseball gods aren't required to.

As for Clayton Kershaw's reservation in that place where the gods of baseball dwell...

C'mon! He's twenty!

But if it happens, you heard it here first.