MINNEAPOLIS -- The Dodgers started their two best pitchers on the same night Wednesday, one in Minnesota and one in Chattanooga, Tenn. And both were predictably dominant, with Zack Greinke giving up only an unearned run in six innings of a 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins and Clayton Kershaw striking out nine minor league batters in a five-inning rehab start.
That was enough to convince the Dodgers that Kershaw is ready to return from the disabled list, meaning the next time he and Greinke start it won't be on the same night but in consecutive games next week in Washington, making the Dodgers' star-studded rotation whole for the first time this season.
"Any time you have guys like that in your rotation, it's just two quality guys every time out," Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said. "For the most part, they're going to keep you in games, battle, kind of get you deep into a game.
"If we can get them going again together … we should be good."
Kershaw, a left-hander, and Greinke, a right-hander, were to be the Dodgers' dynamic duo this season, a 1-2 knockout punch that has combined for 144 victories, four earned-run average titles, three Cy Young Awards and two strikeout crowns over the last five full seasons.
But it hasn't worked out that way, at least not yet.
After holding Arizona to a run over 62/3 innings in the Dodgers' season opener in Australia, Kershaw sat out the next five weeks because of a strained muscle in his upper back and shoulder, which is why he was making a rehab start Wednesday in the double-A Southern League.
In Kershaw's absence, Greinke has more than held down the fort for the Dodgers. After beating the Twins in frigid and rainy Minneapolis, striking out six in six innings, Greinke has the majors' best record at 5-0. The last time he won his first five decisions, in 2009, he went on to win a career-high 16 games and a Cy Young Award with the Kansas City Royals.
Numbers aside, he's a different pitcher now, he says.
"My stuff was a lot better then," Greinke said. "I'm locating probably a little better [now]. Being smarter.
"I feel like I've gotten a lot of help here. Nice defensive plays. I feel I was a little nastier back then."
But his string of dominance is a lot longer than five wins. Including the postseason, Greinke has won 18 of his last 21 decisions. And in his last 21 starts, he has pitched at least five innings and given up two runs or less, the longest such streak in the majors in a century.
"He commands all of his pitches. Feels comfortable throwing probably any pitch at any time, which not everybody can do," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "He does what all successful guys do. For the most part, he pitches ahead and he's got put-away pitches when he needs them.
"What I've been most impressed with is it seems like, if the situation gets deeper, it's almost like the better pitches he makes. And that's the difference, I think, in the better guys."
Catcher Drew Butera, who backed Greinke with two hits and a run Wednesday, likened his pitcher to basketball's Michael Jordan and tennis star Roger Federer.
"When push comes to shove, he has an extra level," Butera said.
So, of course, does Kershaw, who gave up two earned runs in 10 innings in his two rehab starts with two teams, striking out 15. And provided he experiences no ill effects from Wednesday's outing, he figures to combine with Greinke next week to take the Dodgers rotation to the next level as well.
Asked whether Kershaw's return gives the Dodgers the best two starters in baseball, Mattingly smiled.
"Can't be too much better," he said. "If they're any better at all."
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