Sandy Koufax said he didn’t know what to make of the changes to the Dodgers roster or how teenage pitching prospect Julio Urias’ career will unfold.
What the 79-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher sounded certain about was this: Clayton Kershaw will triumph in the postseason.
“I think he’ll be in a lot more postseasons and I think it will be totally turned around,” Koufax said. “The best pitcher in baseball is not going to have that happen, probably never again.”
As he observed the Dodgers’ first full-squad workout of the spring Thursday, Koufax said he was shocked Kershaw lost twice to the St. Louis Cardinals in a National League division series last year. A longtime friend of Kershaw, Koufax is in his third year as a special advisor to team owner Mark Walter and is expected to be in camp for about a week.
Kershaw also lost twice to the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series in 2013. Koufax said he was encouraged by how Kershaw pitched seven scoreless innings in a June 29 victory over the Cardinals.
“I said, ‘OK, he’s proven to them he can beat them,’ “ said Koufax, a three-time World Series champion with the Dodgers.
Kershaw pitched well against the Cardinals again in St. Louis on July 20. But Kershaw faltered against the Cardinals in the games that mattered most.
“If somebody had told me anybody would beat Clayton twice in one series, I would have said, ‘No way,’ “ Koufax said. “I probably would have cursed and said that. But it happens.”
Koufax said he was proud of how Kershaw had responded to the defeats, particularly with his mention of the Cardinals when accepting the most valuable player and Cy Young awards last month.
“On a night where you’re being honored, to bring up what didn’t go right, it’s pretty classy, pretty special,” Koufax said.
Asked if he thought the setbacks would provide Kershaw with added motivation, Koufax responded, “I don’t know if he has any extra fire burning, because I think he always has fire burning. He’s a great competitor. Will there be any extra? I hope not, because extra might destroy him.
“You can just go so far. One hundred percent physical effort will kill you because there’s no room for thinking. You can go to 99% but you have to leave some room for the brain.”
Koufax also praised Urias, the 18-year-old left-hander from Mexico, after watching him throw a bullpen session.
“He has all the requisites,” Koufax said. “Physically, he’s very impressive.”
Koufax added: “It’s a long way from the driving range to the golf course. It’s a long way from side sessions to the game. … We just have to see what happens.”
Told of Koufax’s remarks, Urias smiled and responded, “That gives me motivation to continue working.”
Koufax also had a chance to meet Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, the new heads of the team’s front office.
“It seems to me from everything everybody says, they’re analytic, but they’re listening to the players, the managers and the coaches,” Koufax said.
Referring to Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane, Koufax said, “You talk about the analytic thing, this all started in Oakland, but nobody makes mention of the fact that he was a player. So he could see talent. I think it’s a combination of both that’s important.”
As for the roster decisions the front office made in the off-season, Koufax said he wasn’t in position to offer an opinion.
“I have no clue,” he said. “I don’t know most of them. I know Jimmy Rollins’ history from watching him, I know [Howie] Kendrick’s from watching him. They’ve both been great, great players. You only hope.”
Koufax was encouraged by the Dodgers’ efforts to improve their defense. “If you’re going to win with pitching, you better have good defense,” he said.
He added that he would like to see the Dodgers play more fundamentally sound baseball. That was one area in which Koufax said he saw improvement from Yasiel Puig last year.
“He struggled at the end of the year hitting, but I don’t think he made the same mistakes throwing, running the bases,” he said. “I think there was a lot of progress. It’s just when you’re struggling at the plate, everything looks bad.”
Hyun-Jin Ryu missed his second consecutive workout because of tightness in his back, but said he remains convinced the problem is minor. Ryu underwent a MRI exam Wednesday that revealed no structural damage to his back. … Joel Peralta is experiencing discomfort in shoulder and still hasn’t thrown off a mound in camp, but the Dodgers are convinced the right-handed reliever will be ready to compete at the start of the regular season. … Top prospect Corey Seager will work exclusively at shortstop in camp, Manager Don Mattingly said. Seager, 20, is listed as 6 feet 4 and viewed by some evaluators as a future third baseman because of his size.