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Similarities of pitches could be hampering Clayton Kershaw's performance

The inability of Clayton Kershaw to finish at-bats plagued him during the final month of the season, as hitters became more comfortable with the lack of differentiation between his fastball and his slider. The issue arose once more in a Game 1 defeat in which Kershaw gave up five runs and lasted only three innings.

As the Dodgers recuperated on Saturday morning, manager Dave Roberts reiterated his level of confidence in Kershaw. But he conceded the similarities of the two pitches may be hampering Kershaw’s performance.

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The gap between the two pitches was negligible against Milwaukee on Friday. Kershaw’s average fastball clocked at 91.8 mph, while his average slider registered at 89.2 mph, according to Brooks Baseball. Kershaw generated zero swinging strikes with his slider, which was once his most reliable off-speed pitch.

“There is something about the similar velocity and the margin for error,” Roberts said before Game 2 began. “The thing with Clayton is he’s got weapons. Whether it’s both sides of the plate, whether it’s changing eye level, whether it’s using the breaking ball.

“That’s the challenge for him, to continue to exploit hitters’ weaknesses. Because there’s one side of going to your strengths, and there’s another approach of exploiting a weakness. Clayton has that ability to do both, and I think it’s up to us to move forward with that.”

The loss inflated Kershaw’s postseason earned-run average to 4.26, well above his 2.39 mark in the regular season. Roberts was evasive when asked whether Kershaw’s legacy of postseason stumbles affects the pitcher on the mound.

“I can see that he wants to pitch well in the postseason,” Roberts said. “He’s very conscious of certain narratives out there. Does he feel extra motivation or incentive to pitch well? Maybe. But when he takes the baseball, I don’t think that’s on the forefront of his mind. I think his thought is what it always is: to execute a pitch.”

Bellinger snaps skid

Cody Bellinger began the postseason as one of the mainstays in the Dodgers’ starting lineup, a constant regardless of the opposing pitcher’s handedness. But the reigning National League rookie of the year was 0 for 15 with four walks in the Dodgers’ five playoff games before Roberts decided to have him come off the bench Saturday with left-hander Wade Miley starting for the Brewers.

Bellinger, however, emerged in the seventh inning to pinch-hit and ended his skid with an RBI single off right-hander Corbin Burnes to plate the Dodgers’ first run.

“I think there’s always pressure in the playoffs to perform and, obviously, when you’re not performing, it’s tough,” Bellinger said. “But [in Game 1] I felt as good as I have in a long time… It’s hard to snap out of it sometimes, but I felt good [in Game 1] and it was nice to get a hit today.”

Grandal doesn’t start

Game 1 was a nightmare for Yasmani Grandal. The Dodgers catcher committed an error, was called for catcher’s interference and was charged with two passed balls. His meltdown was far from the only problem in the Dodgers’ 6-5 loss, but it was a significant ingredient. After the game, the impending free agent assumed responsibility. On Saturday morning, he didn’t find his name in the Dodgers’ starting lineup for Game 2.

Roberts said the decision to start Austin Barnes over Grandal was not based on Friday’s struggles. Roberts insisted he liked how Barnes has worked with Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu and his history against Miley, though he had faced him only four times in his career before Saturday. Grandal, meanwhile, was two for 17 with a home run, three walks, and seven strikeouts in the postseason.

Grandal eventually got into Game 2 as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded in the seventh inning. He grounded into a double play to end the inning, adding to his troubles in these playoffs.

It was the first time Grandal didn’t start for the Dodgers since Sept. 23. A year after losing his starting job to Barnes for the entire postseason, Grandal won the job back for the playoffs after belting 24 home runs while Barnes’ on-base-plus-slugging percentage dropped from .895 in 2017 to .619 this season. And, according to Roberts, Grandal will be back in the starting lineup for Game 3 on Monday.

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