SAN DIEGO — It would have been arrogant to say so at the time, so Don Mattingly kept it to himself. But the Dodgers manager admitted Saturday that winning a division championship wasn't the only thing on his to-do list heading into the season.
To Mattingly, when the Dodgers clinched a postseason berth was almost as important as the clinching itself. And securing one with nine games to go, as the Dodgers did Thursday in Arizona, was exactly what he had in mind
"One of our goals coming out of spring training was to … set ourselves up where we could do what we're doing. To be able to set our pitching up the way we wanted," Mattingly said. "If a guy needed a day, he could get it. So we've accomplished that much of it."
Judging from the early results, Mattingly's plan is working perfectly with well-rested left-hander Clayton Kershaw, pitching for the first time in a week, turning in a spectacular effort Saturday to beat the San Diego Padres, 4-0.
And in Kershaw's case, the numbers tell the story.
By shutting out the Padres on three hits through seven innings, he lowered his earned-run average to a major league-best 1.88 with one regular-season start remaining, keeping him on track to become only the second Dodger to finish with an ERA below 2.00 since the team moved to Los Angeles, and the first since Sandy Koufax in 1966.
He is also on pace to become the first pitcher since Greg Maddux to lead the majors in ERA in three consecutive seasons. And with 10 strikeouts, Kershaw (15-9) upped his league-leading total to 224, leaving him in line to win his second strikeout title in three seasons.
"I don't really think about that stuff," Kershaw said. "It's especially hard during the season because we have so much left to play for.
"I definitely don't take it for granted, but it's something I don't really think about a whole lot."
But there's one number Mattingly is concerned with: 230, the number of innings Kershaw has pitched this season. That, too, leads the majors, and is only 31/3 innings shy of his career high.
So Kershaw was held back before Saturday's start, in part to give him some much-needed rest, but also because the three-day delay allowed the Dodgers to align their rotation for the postseason, the luxury Mattingly began hoping for last spring.
"I don't mind rest," Kershaw said. "I felt good tonight so I guess that's a bonus."
Kershaw will start the playoff opener Oct. 3 with Zack Greinke pitching Game 2 the next day. And by juggling the rotation the last time through, Kershaw and Greinke will make their final regular-season starts and their first postseason outings with an extra day of rest.
Kershaw may have been a little too strong in the early going Saturday, throwing in the low- to mid-90s but giving up two hits and two walks to the first 10 batters he faced.
The Padres helped bail him out with some poor baserunning in the third inning, turning a first-and-third situation into an inning-ending double play when pitcher Burch Smith broke to the plate on a grounder to shortstop.
Three batters later, catcher A.J. Ellis lined a two-run home run into the lower left-field stands and that proved to be more than enough offense for Kershaw, who retired 14 of the final 15 Padres he faced.
Just for good measure, the pitcher also beat out a bunt single in the seventh inning, then came around to score when Yasiel Puig followed with his 18th home run, a 457-foot shot to center field.
"You expect him to be good all the time," Mattingly said of Kershaw. "He didn't have any kind of a dud all year."
Ethier is on the mend
With Carl Crawford returning to the lineup Saturday and Hanley Ramirez available if needed, the only position player still sidelined because of an injury is outfielder Andre Ethier.
Ethier, who has sat out the last eight games because of a sprained left ankle, has jogged and taken batting practice the last two days. If his comeback doesn't stall, Mattingly is hopeful Ethier will be able to play in in a three-game series in San Francisco that starts Tuesday.
Reliever Chris Withrow left the Dodgers in Arizona on Wednesday to join his wife in Texas for the birth of their first child, Walker Reid. But he didn't miss Thursday's celebration after the team clinched the division title.
"I watched on my phone," he said Saturday. "And there's something about having a baby with you and being with your wife. I felt like I was kind of celebrating two different things all at one time. So that made it a lot better."
Twitter: @kbaxter11Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times