Clayton Kershaw struggles in Dodgers’ 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh

Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers gives up more than two earned run in a game for only the second time in 16 starts.
(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

The door to Dave Roberts’ office was shut when reporters entered the Dodgers clubhouse on Sunday evening. For the second time in three defeats at PNC Park, Roberts required a few extra moments to compose himself. The stumbles have started to weary him, especially a rarity like Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, one caused by an imprecise outing from Clayton Kershaw.

For one muggy night, the best pitcher in the world looked ordinary. Kershaw allowed more than two earned runs in a game for just the second time in 16 starts. Like his other troublesome outing this season, which occurred on April 26 against Miami, the entirety of the damage happened within one inning. Pittsburgh taxed him for four runs in the second, as Kershaw could neither establish a rhythm nor find his command.

“I wish I had an excuse for you,” Kershaw said. “I just didn’t pitch well enough to win tonight.”


His assertion was well-meaning but imprecise. The Dodgers were allowed, technically, to score five runs before the game ended. But the offense could not meet that reasonable goal. When the door to his office opened, Roberts tried to answer for the lineup’s woes.

Much like his hitters, the answer never arrived. Justin Turner and Corey Seager supplied the entirety of the offense. Turner drove in three runs thanks to a homer and a double. Seager scored two of those runs. The rest of the lineup went one for 24 against a rookie starting pitcher and a flammable bullpen.

“Throughout the lineup, we’ve got to have some more production,” Roberts said.

He has sung a similar tune for months. A six-game winning streak at Dodger Stadium offered a respite. This series has not yet ended, and already the optimism created last week has vanished. San Francisco leads the National League West by eight games, with the Dodgers forced to jockey for ground in the wild-card standings.


In times of strife, the team can usually rely upon Kershaw (11-2, 1.79 earned-run average). He could not meet his usual standard. For the first time in 2016, he issued two walks in the same game. The second was intentional, just the second he has been ordered to throw since 2014. Kershaw gave up nine hits.

The Pirates annoyed Kershaw before the game even began. As he stretched in the outfield grass, an unwelcome visitor arrived. It was the Pirate Parrot, the team’s mascot, a green-bodied, yellow-beaked bastardization of the Phillie Phanatic. The parrot steered a remote-controlled truck in Kershaw’s vicinity.

Kershaw was not amused. He waved the mascot away. The parrot manuevered the truck around Kershaw’s head and nearly clipped his left arm. Kershaw looked disgusted. His actual opponents would cause far more trouble.

In the second inning, Pirates utility man Sean Rodriguez became the eighth man to earn a walk against Kershaw this season. He did so after one-out singles by infielder Josh Harrison and catcher Chris Stewart. Kershaw kept missing inside with fastballs and sliders, so Rodriguez trotted to first to load the bases.


For Kershaw, little came easy. In the first at-bat of his career, rookie pitcher Chad Kuhl fouled off five pitches en route to a strikeout. Up came rookie Adam Frazier, who flicked a 94-mph fastball into left for a run-scoring, opposite-field single. The next fastball proved more costly.

Kershaw intended to stuff a fastball inside and lock up the hands of first baseman David Freese. The pitch drifted over the middle. Freese cleared the bases with a double.

“The Freese hit is what killed me tonight,” Kershaw said. “I missed my spot bad, and he made me pay.”

The Dodgers trimmed the deficit in the third when Turner hit a two-run homer. An inning later, Joc Pederson threw out Rodriguez at the plate on a single by Frazier. Yasmani Grandal swiped a piece of Rodriguez’s left shoulder just before the runner touched the plate.


Grandal also caught Kershaw during the Marlins blowup. Kershaw’s preference for veteran backup A.J. Ellis is no secret, but he shot down the premise that his struggles stemmed from Grandal’s presence.

“They don’t get the credit when we pitch well,” Kershaw said. “So they don’t deserve the blame when we pitch bad.”

In the fifth, Seager teamed with Turner for the Dodgers’ third run. Turner hit a double after Seager walked. Then Turner experienced some bad luck, unable to score from third when a fastball from Kuhl shot past Stewart. Turner broke for the plate, but Stewart fed Kuhl in time for the out.

“It [stunk],” Turner said. “It was a [stinky] play.”


The rest of the Dodgers’ offensive output fit a similar categorization after Kuhl departed. The Pittsburgh bullpen retired the final 12 Dodgers in order. And so Roberts stewed behind his door, and pondered the implications of the rare disappointing evening from Kershaw.

“He can’t be perfect,” Roberts said. “I think we expect him to be perfect every night. But it’s not going to happen.”

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes