The Dodgers’ Sunday morning clubhouse was perfectly ordinary. Matt Kemp, Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner were swapping some smack talk. The televisions were tuned to the big game — the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs.
A clubhouse attendant affixed a nameplate above the locker of a new player, then had to do it again because the “Backstage Dodgers” reality television show wanted a better shot.
That the Dodgers reported for work in last place in the National League West for the first time in three years did not particularly worry the men in uniform. It was April, after all. They would win one of these days, and Clayton Kershaw would be their pitcher on this day.
“If there’s anyone you want to take the mound in a game like this, it’s Clayton,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
A game like this? Three consecutive losses overall, five consecutive losses to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and maybe the manager really was branding the 14th game of a 162-game schedule as a must-win.
“When you have so many games left on the calendar, it’s definitely not that dire,” Roberts said before the game. “But it’s still nice to win a baseball game. You have your best going, and under the circumstance of how we’ve been playing, to have him going, it’s a game you really expect to win, and really want to win.
“To say it’s a must-win? That’s a little extreme.”
“It was definitely getting old losing to that team,” center fielder Chris Taylor said.
The standings themselves did not bother Kershaw. The assumption that the Dodgers would heal themselves over time did.
“ ‘It’s early, we’ll figure it out’ doesn’t really work,” he said. “You’ve got to figure it out at some point. I don’t really like that saying. There needs to be a sense of urgency every game out there.”
Paul Goldschmidt spoiled the shutout bid with a home run, but Kershaw still cruised to his first victory of the season.
The Dodgers scored no runs for him in his first start, one in his second, two in his third. They had three in the third inning Sunday.
Taylor drove in three runs, on a home run and a two-run double. Yasiel Puig singled home two runs.
But, for all the swings the Dodgers took that were impressive, the ones they did not take might have been more impressive. The players talked among themselves about how to reclaim their offensive success of a year ago, most importantly by refusing to swing at borderline pitches.
“When we start walking, that’s a big calling card of our offense,” Kershaw said.
The Dodgers scored their first run on an error, two walks and a sacrifice fly. In a span of 11 batters, Arizona starter Zack Godley walked six.
But Kershaw was the star, the anchor, the stopper. Of his 12 strikeouts, 10 came on a slider.
He used his curve less than usual. He threw his slider to different spots. The Diamondbacks have seen Kershaw twice in two weeks, and they might see him twice more in the first two weeks of May.
For all the talk about how he might have lost a mile or two on his fastball, his statistics look like vintage Kershaw. His earned-run average is 1.73. He has walked three and struck out 31.
“I can’t say enough about that outing,” Roberts said, “and how much we needed it.”
The Dodgers still are in last place, even if the deficit is an entirely manageable 5½ games. But look up, and not too far: the Dodgers are only half a game behind the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants. On Monday, they could leave last place behind.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin