Clayton Kershaw sharp in his season debut as Dodgers defeat Diamondbacks
They were the two sights most noticeably absent in the season’s first nine games, the largest pieces missing in the Dodgers’ championship plans.
Clayton Kershaw returned to the mound and Cody Bellinger returned to form Sunday, the left-handed pitcher spinning 5 2/3 scoreless innings in his season debut while the left-handed slugger launched his first home run in hopes of shaking off an early slump.
But there was something different about seeing two of the team’s biggest gems sparkle, a reminder of how much brighter the club’s fortunes look when Kershaw and Bellinger — not to mention Mookie Betts, who also homered Sunday before leaving the game early with a sore left middle finger — are at their best.
Bellinger produced the opening blow, belting a first-inning changeup into the right-field bullpen for a two-run home run. It was instant gratification for the reigning National League MVP, who was given an off day Saturday to work on his swing amid a five-for-36 start at the plate.
“I haven’t really felt bad, it’s just a matter of missing pitches,” said Bellinger, who recorded two of the game’s three hardest-hit balls while going one for four.
Cody Bellinger hits home run against Diamondbacks.
“As a hitter, sometimes it takes one at-bat and it just gets you locked in,” added manager Dave Roberts. “Even after that second at-bat” — a 105.3 mph screamer that died in deep right — “you can see the takes, that he was seeing the ball better. Today, not only because of the homer, was a good step in the right direction.”
Kershaw’s performance was even more auspicious. The 32-year-old showed no ill effects of the back stiffness that landed him on the injured list hours before last month’s season opener. His fastballs peaked at 93 mph, a velocity he never reached last season. His slider produced four of his six total strikeouts and was whiffed on more than half the time. And his curveball was put in play only twice, inducing poorly hit ground outs.
After beginning the game with nine straight outs, Kershaw stranded runners at second and third in the fourth — the only real trouble he faced — by fanning Kole Calhoun in four pitches. He easily worked around an infield single in the fifth and retired both batters he faced in the sixth.
As he walked off the mound for the final time, his day ended after 81 pitches, the usually stoic three-time Cy Young Award winner even cracked a smile at his teammates’ applause.
“First time pitching in golly, eight, nine months, in a game that actually matters, I think there was some relief and some gratefulness for sure,” said Kershaw, whose last competitive appearance came in last October’s infamous NLDS Game 5 loss to the Washington Nationals. “I just threw everything at it [to] see what came out. I think the biggest thing is just feeling healthy, feel really good. Moving well.”
Kershaw was initially unsure how much time he might miss after his back tightened during a preseason workout. A couple successful bullpen sessions in the last week, however, assured him that he could showcase the strides made through intense offseason work with pitching specialists at the renowned Driveline training center and strength coaches within the Dodgers’ organization.
Slumping slugger Cody Bellinger was given the day off, and the Dodgers responded by homering four times in an 11-2 rout of the Diamondbacks.
“Stuff-wise, I figured it might be playing up a little bit as compared to last year, but that’s what I expect it to be,” Kershaw said. “I expect the execution to be the way it was. Being able to get the ball to both sides of the plate. That’s what it should [be] like.”
Another spotless performance from the bullpen followed, the unit’s fifth game this year of three or more scoreless innings. About the only negative for the Dodgers was Betts’ early exit.
Prior to splashing a fifth-inning solo home run into the Chase Field pool, the right fielder hurt his hand on a swing earlier in the at-bat. Betts stayed in the field for the next two innings before swelling prompted Roberts to pinch-hit for him in the seventh. An X-ray on Betts’ finger came back negative and Roberts said he’d be day-to-day with the team beginning a three-game series in San Diego on Monday.
Shortstop Corey Seager missed Sunday’s game with a left quad issue and is day-to-day … The Dodgers optioned right-handed pitcher Mitch White after activating Kershaw.
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