Then, he suddenly looked human, as he did in his last start and his start before that.
Failing to complete the seventh inning for the sixth time in eight starts, Kershaw left the game in the hands of the bullpen, which included Kenley Jansen for the first time this season.
That was enough to earn Kershaw the 100th victory of his career, but not enough to subside the whispers about what might be wrong with the reigning National League most valuable player and Cy Young Award winner.
Kershaw was charged with three runs in 62/3 innings, which almost certainly didn't reflect how dominant he was for most of the night.
Kershaw gave up two hits in a laborious, 21-pitch first inning, but didn't give up any runs. In fact, he held the Rockies scoreless through the first six innings, through which he and the Dodgers built a 6-0 advantage.
He retired 12 of the 13 batters he faced leading up to the seventh inning.
But part of what has made Kershaw special in previous seasons, particularly last season, was his ability to pitch deep into games. In the 27 starts he made last year, he pitched seven or more innings 22 times.
That didn't happen on this night.
Kershaw's final line included 10 strikeouts and four walks. He is now 2-2 with an earned-run average of 4.24.
Performances like this are why Mattingly insisted before the game that Kershaw was pitching well. If something looks wrong with Kershaw, Mattingly argued, it was only because he is viewed differently than other pitchers.
"I think that's the bar that he's set," Mattingly said. "That's his standard."
While the Dodgers might still be waiting for the Kershaw of old to return, they got their closer back in the fold.
Jansen, who underwent a foot operation before the start of spring training, was activated from the 15-day disabled list.
An NL scout who watched Jansen pitch in a minor league game this week said the right-hander "should be more than ready" to contribute. The scout was right.
Jansen pitched the eighth inning and struck out four batters, including Gonzalez, who reached base on a passed ball.
"It's nice to get one of the top of the closers in baseball back," Mattingly said.
Jansen pitched the eighth inning instead of the ninth because Mattingly wanted to get him an appearance or two before reinstating him as the closer.
In the hours leading up to the game, Jansen said he thought he would have to pitch only once to prepare him for the ninth-inning role.
He anticipated he would be ready to close by the time the Dodgers opened a three-game road series against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday.
"I'm ready to go," Jansen said.
He looked like it Friday.