Six days removed from one of the worst games of his career, Clayton Kershaw was smiling again.
Kershaw pitched six scoreless innings Friday in the Dodgers' 2-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, delivering a performance that inspired his teammates, who were uncertain how long he would remain in the game after a 43-minute rain delay in the fourth inning.
"Now, this is my last start and not that one," Kershaw said.
The last time Kershaw scaled a mound, he was there for only 1 2/3 innings, during which he was pounded for seven runs and six hits in a loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
"Just pretty miserable, those four days or five days in between," Kershaw said of the time since his previous turn in the rotation. "It's not a whole lot of fun sitting on that game, so I'm glad this day came and I'm glad we got a win."
Kershaw's recovery came at a critical time, as did the three scoreless innings by a bullpen that is starting to form an identity.
The dominant pitching performance masked some of the Dodgers' other problems, starting with the uncertainty in center field. Matt Kemp was replaced there by Andre Ethier, as Manager Don Mattingly insinuated the Dodgers were exploring alternatives to Kemp's unsteady glove.
Hanley Ramirez was also out of the lineup, but for a different reason. Mattingly had to rest him. Ramirez's one-day substitute was slick-fielding rookie Erisbel Arruebarrena, who struck out three times in his major league debut and looked completely overmatched at the plate.
Catcher A.J. Ellis figured Kershaw would deliver something special.
"I don't know the last time I've seen him have two bad ones in a row," Ellis said. "He's always known how to rise to the occasion and kind of make amends for what he's done."
Five times in his career, Kershaw has allowed seven or more runs. Each time, Kershaw blanked the opponent in his next start.
"That's one of his greatest attributes — his will, his will to beat the other team," Ellis said. "His competitiveness is unmatched in baseball."
Nothing would stop Kershaw on this night, not even a 43-minute rain delay.
Kershaw didn't give up a hit in the first three innings. But when play resumed in the fourth inning, he promptly walked Carlos Ruiz and gave up a double to Chase Utley that advanced Ruiz to third base. Kershaw struck out the next three batters to escape with the Dodgers' 2-0 lead intact.
In the sixth inning, he again allowed the first two batters to reach base. And again, he retired the next three.
An even more dramatic escape was required in the seventh inning, this time with Kershaw out of the game. Brandon League loaded the bases without recording an out, prompting Mattingly to call on left-hander J.P. Howell.
Pinch-hitter Domonic Brown hit a screaming line drive that was caught in left field by a sliding Carl Crawford.
"It was a big moment in the ballgame," Kershaw said of Crawford's catch.
Howell induced Jimmy Rollins to hit a grounder to third baseman Chone Figgins, who threw home for a force out. Howell then got Ruiz to fly out to right field.
Making his third consecutive eighth-inning appearance, Brian Wilson retired all three batters. Kenley Jansen also pitched a perfect inning to record his 14th save.
"I think the [bullpen] roles are slowly starting to become a little more defined," Kershaw said. "It's our job as starters to get deeper into games, so it makes their roles a little easier to be defined."
The outfield is another story.
A day after Mattingly said Kemp lacked the "burst" he had before his off-season ankle operation, he replaced the two-time Gold Glove winner in center field with Ethier.
"I feel like we need to continue to get better out there," Mattingly said.
Mattingly wouldn't say if Ethier was now the everyday center fielder or, if he wasn't, how playing time would be split between him and Kemp.
"Again, we keep having talks and discussions about how we want to go about things," Mattingly said. "We'll see as it goes."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times