Nobody knows Clayton Kershaw, the pitcher, better than Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. He is the only pitching coach Kershaw has ever known in the majors. He has been there from the electric start in 2008, through his on-top-of-the-world dash through the middle of the decade, and he is there now, as Kershaw masters the next step of a Hall of Fame career.
They’re on Year 12 together and Kershaw’s success this season, after a velocity dip and chronic back trouble and an ominous shoulder injury in spring training, has not floored Honeycutt. Yes, it looks different and Kershaw has made adjustments to counter the mileage on his body, but his stellar season, which continued Wednesday with seven scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ 9-1 win over the Miami Marlins, is something he simply expects.
“I just see a gentleman that just continues to be impressive with whatever he has,” Honeycutt said before Wednesday’s game. “He’s always going to be a battler. He’s a warrior. I mean, he goes out there and keeps you in the game when he doesn’t have his good stuff. If he has his stuff, it’s pretty much lights out.”
Kershaw had his stuff Wednesday night at Marlins Park and the Marlins (44-74) had no answers. The left-hander compiled eight straight strikeouts through three perfect innings, carried a perfect game for 4 2/3 frames, and extended his streak of starts with at least six innings to 21 to begin the season.
He finished with 10 strikeouts without walking a batter and added a double at the plate. It was the eighth time he’s recorded at least seven scoreless innings with double-digit strikeouts and no walks. That’s tied for second in major-league history. His earned-run average sunk to a tidy 2.63 as he tied Sandy Koufax with his 165th career win.
“Tonight was as good of command as I’ve seen, really, with all his pitches, namely his fastball,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
Kershaw was given plenty of support from an offense that preyed on the Marlins’ pitching staff for the second straight night. After tallying 15 runs, six home runs, and 13 extra-base hits Tuesday, the Dodgers (81-41) clubbed four home runs Wednesday, marking the first time since the franchise moved to Los Angeles that they’ve compiled at least four home runs in three straight games.
Edwin Rios, playing close to where he starred at Florida International, supplied two of the homers — the first two of his career — as he went three for four with a 12-pitch walk while adding a nimble over-the-shoulder catch at first base in the sixth inning.
“Happy I finally got it out of the way,” Rios said.
The Dodgers initially announced Kershaw was scheduled to pitch Tuesday before switching him with Dustin May in the rotation. May allowed a run in 5 2/3 innings to capture his first career win Tuesday while Kershaw got an extra day of rest and the Dodgers ensured he wouldn’t face the Atlanta Braves, a possible playoff foe, Sunday. If Kershaw pitched Tuesday, the Dodgers would’ve had to give him a week off to avoid the Braves.
“We didn’t want him facing Atlanta on Sunday and coming back Tuesday to Sunday,” Honeycutt said. “So it was either [give him an extra day] this time or you go from Tuesday to Tuesday. So it was an extra day this time or two extra days next time.”
It was the 13th time the Dodgers afforded the 31-year-old Kershaw at least one additional day of rest this season. Wednesday’s appearance came after seven days off. Asked if he thought the extra rest helped, Kershaw questioned the theory.
“It’s not ideal,” Kershaw said. “Obviously, I think more than anything you want to stay in that rhythm. One day every once in a while [is good]. But, obviously, you have to understand the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do and it set up better for everybody so just kind of roll with it and move on.”
If there was any rust, Kershaw didn’t show it. He began his outing by striking out Jon Berti on eight pitches. That was the most resistance he encountered as he plowed through the Marlins’ lineup the first time. He punched out the first seven batters he faced, setting the modern-day (since 1900) franchise record but falling one shy of the major-league mark. Six were swinging. Five came via the slider. One was on a curveball and another on a fastball.
Lewis Brinson snapped the streak before he could reach the all-time record with a groundout. Kershaw followed the spoiler by striking out his counterpart Elieser Hernandez on three pitches, matching the three perfect innings he posted against the Marlins in his other start against them this season on July 20.
This time, the left-hander extended the dominance into the fourth inning, retiring the side again and adding his ninth strikeout along the way. He had two outs in the fifth when Harold Ramirez stepped into the batter’s box for his second plate appearance. After striking out looking in the second inning, Ramirez slapped a single to right field to end Kershaw’s pursuit of perfection. Kershaw rebounded by getting Jorge Alfaro to whiff on a slider in the dirt for his 10th strikeout.
“You don’t really care how you get the outs as long as you’re efficient with it,” Kershaw said. “And tonight i was able to get ahead.”
Kershaw would log two more innings before departing. Two more Marlins reached base — on an error and an infield hit — but he smoothly danced around the light traffic. He exited after throwing 90 pitches, with a seven-run lead and another dazzling performance on his ledger, six outs away from his first victory against the Marlins since 2013.
Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor are slated to begin rehab assignments Friday, according to manager Dave Roberts. The manager added the two will “probably” start in Arizona before reporting to an affiliate. Taylor, who is in Arizona, has been on the injured list since July 15 with a left forearm fracture. Hernandez is with the club. He was put on the injured list with a left hand sprain July 29. …A.J. Pollock didn’t start Wednesday as the Dodgers continue being careful with his sore groin. Pollock has not started in six of the Dodgers’ last 12 games. Pollock is expected start Thursday.