Clayton Kershaw fades against Milwaukee Brewers

Clayton Kershaw fades against Milwaukee Brewers
Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw cruised through the first five innings, but the Dodgers lost to the Brewers, 4-3. (Morry Gash / Associated Press)

Clayton Kershaw fiddled with a piece of tape as he stood in front of a locker and fielded questions about what had gone wrong.

For most pitchers, a performance like Kershaw's in a 4-3 loss to the scuffling Milwaukee Brewers would be perfectly adequate. He was charged with three runs in 71/3 innings, struck out eight and received no decision.

But for Kershaw, it was a cause for frustration, a feeling that he preferred not to revisit. So he didn't. With a smile, he politely declined to analyze why the brilliance he usually displays eluded him, as it has for his first six starts this season.

Did he, a reporter asked, get fatigued in the eighth inning?


"Felt fine," Kershaw said.

Did he feel more like himself through the first seven?

"I don't know. I felt fine," he said. "I mean, I don't really feel like answering questions right now, but I felt fine."

Not physically, it was clarified.

"Yeah, I know what you meant," Kershaw said. "I don't want to analyze it so much right now."

The season is hardly a month old, the Dodgers lead their division by three games and Kershaw's earned-run average is hardly disastrous at 3.72. Yet, even though his postgame interview lasted just 60 seconds, Kershaw's disappointment was obvious.

Last season, Kershaw was the best pitcher in baseball, the National League most valuable player and Cy Young Award winner. To start this season, he has appeared human.

Monday's loss, which ended the Dodgers' four-game win streak, was especially vexing because, for much of the game, he was overpowering as usual. Milwaukee is 8-18, the worst record in baseball, and on Sunday fired manager Ron Roenicke, replacing him Monday with Craig Counsell.

Kershaw struck out the first four batters he faced and didn't allow a hit until Kyle Lohse, the opposing pitcher, singled in the third. His slider, which has taken longer to regain its bite than he'd prefer, was sharp. Batters looked lost, swinging at balls in the dirt or chasing fastballs in.

Against the first seven hitters in the order, Kershaw was perfect. He retired each three times, 21 batters in all, and struck out eight.

"He was just being Kershaw, you know?" Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal said. "Just pounding guys in, breaking bats, getting ground balls, getting ahead of guys."

But the last two spots in the order, which included the pitcher and two pinch-hitters, went five for six with a home run, two triples, a double and a single. They scored all three of Kershaw's runs. No. 8 hitter Hector Gomez, subbing for injured shortstop Jean Segura, homered, tripled and scored twice.

"Just a couple fastballs that kind of leaked over and they put a good swing on it," Grandal said. "Any other night, that's possibly a ground ball to somebody. But it just so happened that today they got it in the air."

Usually, those pitches are what separate Kershaw. Last year, when he went 21-3 with a 1.81 ERA and 239 strikeouts, he made few mistakes. This season, he has already yielded five home runs in six outings. He allowed nine all of last season.

Even last season, though, Kershaw had less-than-dominant moments early. After his first six starts, a span that included a trip to the disabled list, he had a 3.57 ERA.

The Dodgers are getting along fine even though Kershaw has just one win. But their rotation has holes. Brandon McCarthy, who signed a four-year, $48-million contract in the off-season, underwent season-ending elbow surgery last week.

And on Monday they moved Hyun-Jin Ryu to the 60-day disabled list, meaning he won't be eligible until May 26. Manager Don Mattingly said the move doesn't change Ryu's timeline, and he is still scheduled to throw this week in Los Angeles.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand