Clayton Kershaw finishes a sharp spring for the Dodgers

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has 1.61 earned-run average in spring training, much better than last year's 9.20

Clayton Kershaw won't say it, but his longtime catcher suspects he dislikes spring training.

"There's really no reward at the end for him, as far as win or a loss," A.J. Ellis said.

The next time Kershaw takes the mound, there will be a reward. He is scheduled to start Monday, when the Dodgers host the San Diego Padres on opening day.

"Something about the adrenaline, the competition, takes him to another level," Ellis said.

Kershaw will have to be almost flawless against the Padres to pitch better than he did in the exhibition season. Before the Dodgers broke camp Wednesday, Kershaw made a tuneup start that lasted three innings and lowered his earned-run average to 1.61. He was charged with only an unearned run in the Dodgers' 4-4 tie with the Kansas City Royals.

"I hope it means I'll pitch better, but I don't think it means anything," Kershaw said.

Kershaw pointed to his 9.20 ERA in spring training last year. He went on to have a season for the ages, winning the National League most-valuable-player award, as well as his third Cy Young Award in four years.

"I don't think you put much stock into it," Kershaw said of spring stats. "I'd like to, but you can't, I don't think."

If Kershaw was encouraged, it was by the team's new middle infield of shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Howie Kendrick.

"The guys we brought in have obviously fit in really well," he said. "Howie and Jimmy, especially, are really professional guys. … You feel like you know somebody playing against them and Jimmy and Howie are what I expected, both great guys willing to sit down and talk and hang out. And at the same time, when it's time to play, they get it done, play the right way and it's fun to be part of the team."

Greinke upbeat

Before Kershaw faced the Royals, Zack Greinke pitched seven innings in a Class-A intrasquad game at Camelback Ranch. The Dodgers wanted Greinke to increase his pitch count in as controlled an environment as possible.

Greinke threw 85 pitches, which is more than he threw in any previous game this spring. He was charged with two runs and five hits.

"If I threw seven innings, the first five were not looking good," he said. "But the last two were amazing."

Greinke said he made a mechanical adjustment when throwing a fastball away for the final pitch of the fifth inning. He struck out the next four batters he faced.

Greinke's next start will be Tuesday, in the second game of the season-opening series against the Padres.

The other two

As the Dodgers' primary catcher for the last three seasons, Ellis knew what Kershaw and Greinke could do. What made Ellis optimistic about the upcoming season was how newcomers Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson pitched during spring training.

"The first four guys right now are outstanding," Ellis said.

With Hyun-Jin Ryu starting the season on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, the Dodgers will rely heavily on McCarthy and Anderson in the first month of the season.

"These are guys who are going to pitch to our team strengths, which is going to be our infield defense, our defense in general," Ellis said. "These guys put the ball on the ground."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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