Kershaw shines in his 2020 season opener

West Coast Sports

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 12: Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws a pitch against the New York Mets at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. Kershaw threw a complete game shutout along with 13 strikeouts as the Dodgers won 5-0. Kershaw became the first Dodgers pitcher to have double-digit strikeouts in five consecutive starts. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

CBSSports.com – Veteran lefty and future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw was supposed to be the Dodgers‘ Opening Day starter in 2020, but lower back issues rendered that impossible. That was a concern, given that in recent seasons Kershaw has been limited by serious low back problems going back to 2016. 

However, he healed quickly enough to take the bump against the Diamondbacks on Sunday in his 2020 debut (LAD-ARI GameTracker). As you’re about to see, Kershaw allayed some fears with his outing: 

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Clayton KershawSP •vs. ARI, 8/2/20IP5 2/3R0H3SO6BB0

Of his 81 pitches on the day, 51 went for strikes. Those three hits were all singles and only one was truly squared up. That’s the first time he’s allowed no runs and no walks in a start since Aug. 14 of last year. Also encouraging is that Kershaw on Sunday showed somewhat rejuvenated fastball velocity. 

That’s a positive development because he’s been suffering velo loss for quite a while: 

SEASONKERSHAW’S AVERAGE FASTBALL VELOCITY
201594.2 mph
201693.8 mph
201793.2 mph
201891.3 mph
201990.5 mph

While Kershaw, 32, has remained quite effective in the face of a declining fastball — an overstuffed repertoire and generational command will do that for you — the trend is undeniable. On Sunday, however, every fastball Kershaw threw was more than 90 mph, and he averaged 92 mph with his four-seamer (with three of them clocking in at 93 mph or better). It’s one start, yes, but flashing somewhat improved velocity in his first start back from the IL and not coming off anything resembling a typical ramp-up period is notable. 

Kershaw has shown signs of decline in recent seasons, both in terms of run prevention and command-and-control indicators. However, let’s not overstate that decline. You can factually state that Kershaw in 2019 posted his worst ERA+ since 2010 and his worst K/BB ratio since 2013, but that shouldn’t cloud the reality that his ERA+ (137) and K/BB ratio (4.61) in 2019 were both still really good.  

So if Kershaw has a bit of rediscovered velocity to go with his already elite craftsmanship on the mound, then perhaps it’s time hit the pause button his decline phase. Given some of the depth issues the Dodgers may be facing in the rotation right now, Sunday’s performance by Kershaw was a most welcome one.

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