Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw got his first win of the season Friday night, when he threw six innings giving up one earned run while striking out 12 against the Colorado Rockies.
The reigning National League MVP and three-time Cy Young award winner struggled in his first two starts of the season, giving up a combined eight earned runs in 12.1 innings to the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks.
On top of what Kershaw was able to control and improve, there was a subtle change made Friday that could have played a part in him having more success. One was Yasmani Grandal caught him for the first time in the regular season and another was the Dodgers’ infield didn’t shift against any batters.
While some of that is likely tied to scouting reports on the Rockies’ hitters, Grandal believes the Dodgers shouldn’t shift regardless of the opponent, according to to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
I don’t think you can really shift when he’s pitching,” Grandal said. “Guys don’t hit him the way they hit other pitchers, so they don’t put the ball in their normal zones. Even though he’s left-handed, he’s definitely a different cat. His arm slot is so hard to hit, it’s almost like hitting a right-hander because he’s straight over the top. Usually, lefties throw three-quarters. Even [Aroldis] Chapman, CC [Sabathia], [David] Price, [Madison] Bumgarner, none of them are over the top like Clayton.”
In Kershaw’s first two starts, the Dodgers shifted their infield on multiple occasions only to wind up getting burned for it. The first instance came on Opening Day when Matt Kemp hit an RBI ground ball single to the right side in the first inning where Howie Kendrick likely would have been playing if not moved.
Diamondbacks right-handed batters also took advantage of the Dodgers’ shifting with Kershaw on the mound as A.J. Pollock and Mark Trumbo both had base hits that rolled into right field, which led to the Diamondbacks scoring a run.
Kershaw and manager Don Mattingly both defended the club’s use of shifts after the April 11 game in April 11 game in Arizona, but whether they continue to utilize the strategy in Kershaw starts moving forward remains to be seen.
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