The Kerfuffle heard ‘round the world.
On Wednesday afternoon in a very cold field in Minneapolis, Clayton Kershaw took the mound and was about as perfect as he could be.
Through seven full innings of work, the future Hall of Famer did not allow a single Minnesota Twin to reach base. He struck out 13, and didn’t allow a batter ball with an exit velocity higher than 90 until the last out of the seventh. He left the mound after that out having thrown 80 pitches.
He did not return to the mound again in that game. He and manager Dave Roberts had had a discussion on the bench before he went out for the seventh as to what would transpire, regardless of what he did in that inning. The coaching staff decided that the health of Kershaw and his arm was much more important that a possible perfect game.
Everyone had thoughts on Kershaw not finishing his outing, from talking heads to former players, and the opinions completely ran the gamut from it was the right call to ultimate insanity.
Afterwards, Kershaw said that he knew it was the right decision, and that the team wanted to accomplish greater things together, that this season is bigger than his individual accomplishments.
And that is what it comes down to, really. Kershaw has dealt with injuries on and off throughout the latter part of his career, including not being able to pitch in the playoffs last season.
Kershaw threw the most perfect no-hitter in 2014, with no men reaching base except for one, because of an errant throw from Hanley Ramirez to first. A silly stain on an otherwise stellar outing from the best left handed pitcher of our generation.
Fans of baseball may also see this as a stain on his career, and more think of it more-so as a stain on Dave Roberts’s career as a manager. This is not the first time Roberts has pulled a pitcher early – he also pulled Ross Stripling early in his no-hit bid in 2016 in his major league debut. Roberts and the pitching staff did allow Rich Hill to go out for the 10th inning in his quest to complete a no-hitter when the score was tied 0-0. He promptly gave up a hit and the Dodgers lost the game.
The Dodgers’ win was never in doubt in Wednesday’s game, and Kershaw had no stressful pitches of which to be wary. But with Kershaw and the playoffs in mind, the Dodgers felt those two were of upmost importance.
The best thing to come of this whole situation is what it means for Kershaw and the team going forward. Kershaw is not Vintage Kershaw – but he is a new version that has shown when healthy, he is just as lethal. His fastball may only be hitting 89-92 on the radar gun, as opposed to the 95-96 it once was, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
Kershaw has often been described as stubborn and regimented – unwilling to change because he knew himself and his pitching best. But that has changed, confronted with injuries and his aging. He visited Driveline to work on his mechanics. He’s experimented with grips and adding a change up. Even with the declining fastball, he now has four pitches in his arsenal that he and catcher Austin Barnes are mixing and matching masterfully.
Clayton felt some left forearm tightness in a start October 1st. Dodger fans feared the worst – that Kershaw might never pitch again, for the Dodgers or otherwise.
But maybe most importantly, he’s allowed himself to rest. Kershaw did not throw a baseball from October until January. He received a plasma infusion, and his arm is finally feeling healthy.
This team will need a full season of a healthy Kershaw. While the offense will be at or near the top of the league all season, the starting rotation is where the Dodgers are most thin. And all fans know that pitching is the most important in the postseason.
The Dodgers’ only goal this season is to win another World Series. A healthy Kershaw goes a long way to getting them there.