Clayton Kershaw stood in front of his locker Sunday and shook his head. He had just finished throwing 65 pitches in the Dodgers’ 5-2 exhibition win over the Seattle Mariners and, by Kershaw’s standards, it had not gone well.
“Today was rough,” he complained. “I was all over the place. Had no idea where the ball was going. I’m getting worse as the spring goes on. So I’ve got to figure it out.”
Not more than 20 feet away his catcher, Yasmani Grandal, was asked about the same performance.
“I think he did a good job,” he offered brightly.
Good isn’t nearly good enough for Kershaw, who last year became the first National League pitcher in 47 years to win both the MVP and Cy Young Award in the same season. Now he wants to get better.
“That’s what I think we love about him,” Manager Don Mattingly said of Kershaw, who gave up a run, four hits and three walks in 3 1/3 innings. “He’s always going to be striving for perfection.”
Grandal will learn. Sunday was his first experience catching Kershaw and a rapport between the two was clearly lacking. The Mariners loaded the bases against Kershaw in the first inning and got two runners on in the second, and Kershaw gave up a double, a walk and a wild pitch in the third, when Seattle scored its only run.
For Kershaw and Grandal, chemistry class is just beginning.
“It’s part of the process that you’ve got to go through,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “They’ll get to know each other more. And know those little things that you feel like you can say or do to get a pitcher through the tough innings.”
Kershaw has that kind of relationship with A.J. Ellis, a longtime teammate and his preferred catcher. However, Ellis hit just .191 in 2014 and .238 the year before. Grandal, a switch hitter, batted .245 in three seasons with the San Diego Padres — including .357 against Kershaw.
Yet for Kershaw, who follows a rigid routine on the days when he pitches, the comfort level he has with Ellis might be worth a little more than some extra offense behind the plate.
The pitcher was careful not to blame his struggles Sunday on his catcher — “He’s good back there,” he said of Grandal — but he did note his performance was uncharacteristic.
“I walked three guys in three innings,” he said. “I haven’t done that in a long time. There’s a lot of things to figure out.”
Taiwanese pitcher Chin-hui Tsao, who last pitched in the majors in 2007, has looked good in two appearances this spring, throwing 4 1/3 scoreless innings and allowing one baserunner while striking out five.
“This is the first time I’ve seen him. And he gives me a lot of options to play with,” Grandal said of the right-hander, who struck out two in 1 2/3 innings Sunday. “Whether it’s backdoor breaking balls, cutters in, fastballs up. And he can bring it too. I didn’t know he threw that hard.
“It just seemed like he knew what he wanted to do. So he made it easy for me.”
Tsao, 33, hasn’t pitched professionally since 2009, when he was banned from Taiwan’s top league over allegations that he tried to help fix games. Major League Baseball looked into the case, then cleared the Dodgers to sign him to a minor league deal.