Kershaw shows that he’s special again

Clayton Kershaw leads the National League in strikeouts and innings pitched. Only Ian Kennedy, who pitches for a first-place team, has as many victories. Only Johnny Cueto, who has pitched almost 60 fewer innings, has a lower earned-run average. Only Roy Halladay has pitched more complete games.

But only 29,764 fans were said to be in the stands Monday at Dodger Stadium to witness Kershaw’s latest masterpiece, a 4-1 complete-game victory over the San Diego Padres -- and based on the numerous blocks of empty seats, that attendance figure appeared to be grossly inflated.

“I thought about that during the game,” Manager Don Mattingly said. “You hate to see the highlights of Clayton’s season -- it’s a special year so far for him -- and have that with empty seats.”

With 17 victories already to his name, Kershaw could become the Dodgers’ first 20-game winner since Ramon Martinez was 20-6 in 1990. He could become the team’s first Cy Young Award winner since Eric Gagne saved 55 games in 2003.

“They should want to see this young man pitch because it’s a pleasure to see him work,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said.


Kershaw was his usual low-key self after the win, in which James Loney hit his fifth home run of the month and a hobbled Andre Ethier was three for four with a run batted in.

“I’m not going to say it’s not flattering,” Kershaw said of his inclusion in the Cy Young discussion. “It’s nice to be mentioned. But I have five starts left. A lot can happen.”

Of the possibility of a 20-win season, he said, “I don’t have personal goals. I really don’t.”

Honeycutt said this isn’t an act, comparing Kershaw’s demeanor to that of another great Dodgers left-hander: Fernando Valenzuela.

“The next day, whether he won or lost, he’s the same person,” Honeycutt said. “He’s out shagging, getting his work in. He’s very consistent.”

As far as style of pitching, Honeycutt said Kershaw was starting to remind him of Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.

But, Honeycutt added, “he’s using more pitches than Steve did.”

Catcher Rod Barajas said in that regard, the 23-year-old has made a marked improvement from last season.

“Last year was usually fastball, slider,” Barajas said. “He tried using the curveball but it was a little inconsistent. The changeup wasn’t even a thought. He maybe threw one or two changeups a game. Now, he has the ability to use those pitches and he has the confidence to use them. It makes him better. Now, as an offensive club, you have to worry about four pitches instead of two.”

The expanded arsenal is what allowed Kershaw to complete his fifth game, which tied him with Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee for second in the league.

Kershaw had trouble throwing his breaking ball for strikes early in the game but settled down by using the changeup.

The only run charged to him came in the fourth inning, when he gave up doubles to Orlando Hudson and Nick Hundley.

Kershaw limited the Padres to six hits. He lowered his ERA to 2.45 and struck out five, increasing his NL-leading total to 212. The mark tied his single-season career high, which was set last season.

“He was cruising, getting everything over,” Mattingly said. “It made the decision [to send him out for the ninth inning] easier.”

As when arguing why Matt Kemp should be the league’s most valuable player, Mattingly said the Dodgers’ record shouldn’t be held against Kershaw by Cy Young voters.

“Clayton’s as good as anybody out there,” Mattingly said. “You match him up with any guy on any team, which makes you feel like you’ve got a shot. He’s been that guy all year.”