His night finished, his part done, Clayton Kershaw settled into a seat in the Dodgers dugout. It was an excellent vantage point to watch Cody Bellinger produce some insurance. A three-run lead expanded in the top of the eighth inning, when Bellinger supplied his seventh homer of the season, a solo shot that helped secure a 6-2 victory over Colorado.
Bellinger allowed the team to exhale when he smashed a curveball from Colorado left-hander Jake McGee. He leads the Dodgers in home runs after only 16 games in the majors.
"Good player," Kershaw said. "A lefty-lefty curveball is pretty impressive."
The offense handed Kershaw a sizable advantage in the second inning. Kershaw kept the Rockies at bay for seven. He limited his hosts to two runs. Still searching for command of his off-speed pitches, Kershaw scattered seven hits. His defense turned three double plays behind him as the Dodgers (21-15) bounced back from a loss on Thursday night here.
Kershaw (6-2, 2.43 ERA) became the first pitcher to win 20 games at Coors Field. He passed Randy Johnson for that distinction. The honor did not shake Kershaw's dissatisfaction with his performance.
"The box score probably doesn't tell the whole story," he said. "There was a lot of bad pitching."
The outing fit the theme of Kershaw's season. He continues to search for command of his slider — "I still don't think he has his best slider," third baseman Justin Turner said — while battling intermittent mastery of his curveball. Yet he continues to log innings, as the only member of the Dodgers rotation who has not missed a start. Even a middling version of Kershaw can thrive.
Manager Dave Roberts elected to remove Kershaw after only 85 pitches. Roberts recognized both the stress of the evening, as the Rockies put a man on base in each of the first five innings, and the limitations of Kershaw's arsenal. He struck out only four. "It's just a credit to him to get through that start, without having his best stuff," Roberts said.
The Dodgers hung five runs on Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood in the second inning. Chatwood built a fire by walking Bellinger and infielder Chris Taylor. Chase Utley extended his recent hitting binge by flicking a sinking linker into center field. Colorado outfielder Charlie Blackmon slid to stop the ball, only to see it skip past him for a two-run triple. "When you believe in a player, you know that production will come," Roberts said.
After a botched squeeze attempt, in which Kershaw bunted the ball back to Chatwood and Utley got thrown out at the plate, Joc Pederson came to bat. Disaster almost struck. Pederson fouled off an outside fastball, which ricocheted off his bat and back through the on-deck circle. It veered toward Corey Seager.
"Oh my God, it went through my legs," Seager said. "Dude, that was so scary."
Standing on the top step, Utley pointed toward the outfield, as if to say, "No, hit it that way." Pederson listened. He smashed the next pitch he saw, a belt-high cutter, for an RBI double. Seager followed that by slicing a two-run double into the left-field corner.
Kershaw absorbed some punishment in the third inning. Blackmon roped a curveball for a one-out triple. He scored on a single in the next at-bat by second baseman DJ LeMahieu.
The Rockies did not let Kershaw rest. A leadoff walk by Colorado first baseman Mark Reynolds opened the fourth. Reynolds took second on a groundout. Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez turned on a 93-mph fastball for an RBI single.
The trouble compounded when Seager flubbed a grounder. A wild pitch by Kershaw did not appear to help matters — but the Dodgers benefited from a quirk of replay review. When Kershaw spiked a slider, Rockies shortstop Pat Valaika ran to second base. He beat a throw from Yasmani Grandal, but Taylor held the tag as Valaika slid through the base. For a split-second, Valaika left the bag. Relay confirmed the crucial out, and Kershaw got another groundout to strand a runner at third.