Clayton Kershaw has returned this season from a strained back muscle that landed him on the disabled list for the first time.
Now, Kershaw will have to recover from one of the worst starts of his seven-year career.
Kershaw was charged Saturday with seven runs in only 12/3 innings, forcing the Dodgers to empty their bullpen in an 18-7 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
Kershaw had no explanation for what happened in the Diamondbacks' seven-run second inning.
“Just got hit hard tonight,” he said. “I don't know why. Just left some balls up and they got hits. I can't really make excuses saying they found holes or anything like that. They hit balls hard, they hit balls in the gaps.”
Kershaw's fastball touched 94 mph and Manager Don Mattingly said he was sure nothing was physically wrong with his ace.
The only time Kershaw pitched fewer innings was when Milwaukee knocked him out after 11/3 innings May 4, 2010. He was 22.
Kershaw has since transformed into the model of dependability for the Dodgers. Of the 33 starts he made last season, he pitched seven innings or more in 25 of them.
Almost everything the Diamondbacks hit was hit hard. They tripled three times in an inning for the first time in club history. Kershaw's earned-run average soared from 1.74 to 4.43.
Kershaw started the second inning by walking Cody Ross. He gave up a bloop single to Martin Prado that barely stayed inside the right-field line, then struck out Alfredo Marte for the first out.
Ross and Prado scored when Pennington tripled to left-center field.
Tuffy Gosewisch drove in Pennington with a single to left and advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt by pitcher Chase Anderson.
Unable to throw anything other than his fastball for a strike, Kershaw couldn't record the final out.
A.J. Pollock and Chris Owings hit consecutive triples, prompting pitching coach Rick Honeycutt to visit Kershaw on the mound.
The visit changed nothing, as Paul Goldschmidt doubled. A balk by Kershaw allowed Goldschmidt to reach third base.
When Kershaw walked Ross for the second time in the inning, Mattingly had enough.
With Kershaw's pitch count at 50, Mattingly called on Jamey Wright to pitch. Wright gave up a single to Prado and another runwas charged to Kershaw.
Kershaw's final line: seven runs, six hits, two walks, three strikeouts.
“You're allowed to have bad days, but those have to be salvaged,” he said. “You have to save your bullpen, you have to get through five or six [innings] on bad days.”
Kershaw was finished, but the Dodgers weren't.
Their efforts to erase the 7-0 deficit started with Yasiel Puig's ninth home run, a two-run blast to left-center field. It extended Puig's career-long hitting streak to 16 games.
Puig has driven in runs in his last eight games, matching the longest single-season streak by a Dodger since the franchise moved to Los Angeles. The others with streaks as long: Adrian Beltre (2004), Shawn Green (2001), Reggie Smith (1980) and Tommy Davis (1964).
The Dodgers moved to within 9-7 in a five-run sixth inning that include a three-run home run by Carl Crawford and a pinch-hit, two-run double by Andre Ethier.
They didn't get any closer.
The 18 runs were a franchise record for the Diamondbacks.