Clayton Kershaw wins N.L. Cy Young Award
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It was Clayton Kershaw opening-day starter, Clayton Kershaw an ace, and now Clayton Kershaw … National League Cy Young Award winner.
The evolution of the left-hander’s breakthrough 2011 season was capped Thursday when he was named the Cy Young winner by the Baseball Writers Assn. of America. Kershaw received 27 of a possible 32 first-place votes, easily outdistancing second-place finisher Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Kershaw won the N.L. pitching triple crown in 2011, tying for the league lead in victories with 21, and leading it with 248 strikeouts and a 2.28 ERA.
And, oh yeah, he’s 23 years old.
Kershaw becomes the eighth Dodger to win the award -- Sandy Koufax won it three times (giving the Dodgers 10 Cy Young Awards total) -- and the first since Eric Gagne in 2003. He’s the youngest N.L. winner since Dwight Gooden earned the honor in 1985 at age 20.
Kershaw had oozed potential since the Dodgers selected him as the seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft. By his third season, he was already pitching for the Dodgers. By 2009, he was a regular member of the rotation.
Former Dodgers manager Joe Torre wanted to be careful not to place too much pressure on the young pitcher in 2010, but last season new manager Don Mattingly named Kershaw his opening-day starter on the first day of spring.
Kershaw, married and unusually mature for his youth, embraced his role as the team ace.
As the season wore on, his confidence swelled. The Dodgers won 12 of his last 14 starts. He posted a 1.31 ERA in those 14 second-half starts. All at a bargain price of just $500,000. Now eligible for his first year of arbitration, Kershaw could earn over $7 million next season.
Kershaw turns 24 on March 19, but it’s still believed he can continue to develop beyond his 2011 season. In addition to his fastball and curve, last season he developed his slider and started more regularly throwing a changeup. And he routinely pitched deeper into games.
He also demonstrated a competitive desire to rise to the occasion. He faced former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum of the Giants four times last season, and won all four games in impressive fashion (one earned run in 30 1/3 innings).
Earlier this month he was awarded the N.L. Gold Glove for pitchers.
Other Dodgers to have won the Cy Young: Don Newcombe (1956, was also MVP), Don Drysdale (1962), Koufax (1963, ’65, ’66), Mike Marshall (1974), Fernando Valenzuela (1981), Orel Hershiser (1988) and Gagne.
-- Steve Dilbeck