There were boos. There was blame. By the time Thursday afternoon’s brilliantly sun-washed game had ended, the Dodgers were bathed in disappointment.
But look at the big picture.
This was about the big pitcher.
The Chicago Cubs won, but so did Clayton Kershaw. The Cubs pounded and popped, but only after Kershaw overpowered and perplexed.
The final score was 11-5, but the most important statistic belonged to a Dodgers ace pitching for only the third time in two months.
Five innings, one run, six strikeouts, no walks, and one prediction.
This Kershaw will work. This Kershaw, stretched out another inning or so, will be just fine.
If the injury-plagued 30-year-old can’t be Cy Young again, this will be enough. If his body won’t allow him to consistently be the best pitcher on the planet anymore, this will do.
Their starting rotation is deep enough. Their bullpen, which will surely be reinforced by the front office in the next month — right, folks? — should be good enough.
They’ll be OK if they don’t get the 110-pitch-till-you-drop Kershaw. They’ll be thrilled with the efficient and healthy and hang-in-there Kershaw.
That’s exactly what they got Thursday, that and a 3-1 lead, before an ill-advised bullpen appearance by rookie Walker Buehler blew it all to smithereens.
“No loss feels good but, I’ll tell you, when you have your horse throw the way [Kershaw] did …. to know that we can build him up, build on this start, that’s the most important thing for our club,” manager Dave Roberts said. “The big picture is very good for us.’’
His back was fine. His shoulder was strong. His fastball was consistently in the low 90s. His curveball was breathtaking.
“That’s a good team over there, I’m thankful to get through five,’’ Kershaw said. “Kept the pitch count down, didn’t walk anybody…for the most part, definitely there’s some things to be encouraged about today.’’
There was his first inning, three first-pitch strikes, three quick outs, the ball never leaving the infield.
There was his second inning, two out, runners on first and second, Kershaw ends it by freezing Ian Happ with a staring strikeout on an 88-mph slider.
“That’s who he is right there,” catcher Austin Barnes said of his pitcher. “He was the Kershaw I know.’’
The third inning lasted all of nine pitches, seven of which were strikes. The fourth inning featured the Cubs’ only run against Kershaw, on Javy Baez’s double and Addison Russell’s single, but it ended with another Kershaw knockdown.
There were two outs and Russell on first when rookie David Bote endured a bit of batting hell. The poor soul saw three pitches and appeared to be completely befuddled by all of them, the bat never once leaving his shoulder. A 92-mph fastball, a 73-mph curve, and another 92-mph fastball. All strikes, an inning-ending K, and Bote just stood at home plate and stared into the sky.
“I saw 100% from him,” Barnes of Kershaw. “I didn’t see anything hampering him. He wasn’t laboring or anything like that.’’
Two strikeouts and a groundout ended his day in the fifth, as that gave him 68 pitches, and the Dodgers smartly weren’t going to push him more than 75.
“Today was a good step in kind of proving that I’m healthy,” Kershaw said. “Now, next time out, the restrictions should hopefully be pretty close to off and I can get ready to just try to beat an opponent.’’
When those restrictions are off, don’t expect him to return to the grind that has surely led to his recent spates of injuries. The last time he threw more than 100 pitches, on May 1 in Arizona, his shoulder began hurting. Here’s guessing he won’t be approaching that sort of pitch count any time soon. As Roberts said earlier this month, this will all be part of Kershaw’s “new normal.”
“There’s no rush, he can come back slowly but surely,’’ reliever Kenley Jansen said. “We can carry him.’’
There certainly seemed to be a rush on another Dodgers pitcher Thursday, with troublesome results. It turns out, while there are lots of unusual things the Dodgers do with pitchers that seem smart, asking a rookie to make a rehab appearance in the major leagues is probably not one of them.
No column on this game would be complete without noting that Buehler was suddenly pulled back from triple-A Oklahoma City and a scheduled three-inning rehab start Thursday to sit in the depleted Dodgers bullpen and follow Kershaw to the mound.
He was pitching for the first time in 20 days since suffering a rib injury. He was pitching without the benefit of any minor league tuneup. With the Dodgers leading 3-1, he gave up an Albert Almora Jr. home run on his second pitch and, five runs later, this seemed like a pretty lousy idea.
This sort of major league rehab stint worked for Kershaw last weekend in New York, but he’s got 10 seasons on Buehler, whose performance indicated they should probably not try something like this again.