Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw dazzled in his 2020 version of Opening Day on Sunday. Delayed by a back injury, it may not have been the Opening Day start he hoped for, but it was worth the wait.
Where does his Sunday showing against the Diamondbacks rank amongst an impressive Opening Day resumé?
The Gold Standard
Hard to imagine any pitcher topping Kershaw’s 2013 Opening Day magnum opus against the San Francisco Giants. A complete game shutout (remember those?) with zero walks, seven strikeouts, four hits, and 23 strikes looking – good for a 0.44 WHIP.
To top it all off, Kershaw hit the go-ahead home run in the bottom of eighth to break the stalemate. Few pitchers can say they single-handedly won an Opening Day start, but Kershaw sure can.
Today in 2013: Clayton Kershaw threw a shutout and broke a 0-0 tie with a homer on opening day ?
— Yahoo Sports MLB (@MLByahoosports) April 1, 2020
The Next Cut
Opening Day 2016 lacked the drama of Kershaw’s 2013 masterpiece, but one could argue Kershaw was just as good. The southpaw twirled seven innings of one hit ball, his only one hitter in an Opening Day start. He had 18 first pitch strikes against 23 batters and did not allow a walk. Kershaw also recorded his Opening Day career-high for strikes looking: 27. The Dodgers offense did the rest en route to a 15-0 win.
“He’s the best pitcher in baseball,” said Kemp, Kershaw’s former teammate. “He gives them a chance to win every game, and he pitched a hell of a game tonight. My hat’s off to him. I’ve seen it a lot, I’ve been on both sides.”
Kershaw’s 2017 gem against the San Diego Padres and his inaugural Opening Day start in 2011 against the Giants, also rate near the top. In both starts, he posted a sub-1.00 WHIPs and racked up at least eight strikeouts. He yielded six hits total in the two Dodger wins. The Padres game featured his highest strike percentage (72.6%) and his lowest WHIP (0.29).
August 2nd, 2020
Sunday’s start was the second shortest debut for Kershaw behind his ill-fated 2012 flu game (3 IP). However, he posted his third highest strike percentage (70.4%), fourth highest strike looking percentage (21.4%), fourth best WHIP (0.58) and fourth best game score (75). To further remind fans of years past, he even touched 93 MPH on his fastball.
If it were an Opening Day start, this writer would rank Kershaw’s Sunday right where the stats and the eye test tell you too: fourth. 2013 is in a class by itself followed by 2011 and 2016.
Simply seeing the 32-year old Kershaw dealing once again, 2,269 innings later, felt like an Opening Day win.