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Clayton Kershaw haunted by long ball in his second start as Dodgers fall to Giants

Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw is taken out of the game by manager Dave Roberts during the fifth inning Aug. 8, 2020.
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw is removed by manager Dave Roberts in the fifth inning Saturday night. Kershaw gave up four runs in 4 1/3 innings and took the loss.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Clayton Kershaw left one hand on his hip, glanced quickly toward the sky, then slowly paced around behind the mound.

For the third time in five innings Saturday, the San Francisco Giants had taken the left-hander deep. A week after gliding through almost six scoreless innings in an auspicious season debut, the 32-year-old had run into trouble for the first time this season.

Kershaw lasted just 4 1/3 innings in the Dodgers’ 5-4 defeat, allowing three solo homers, four runs and seven hits in his second start of the season. Instead of building upon his near-flawless outing from six days earlier, he went back to battling his biggest issue from 2019, haunted by the long ball on a night he struggled to find consistent command.

“I thought at times the stuff was really good,” manager Dave Roberts said. “There were just some counts, pitches, he left out over the plate.”

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Kershaw’s first mistake was to Austin Slater. Leading off the third inning, the Giants right fielder spoiled a two-strike curveball and slider before clobbering a high fastball to center. Mike Yastrzemski followed suit two batters later, fouling off two more two-strike breaking balls before swatting a center-cut fastball several rows deep to right.

Kershaw missed his spot on both pitches, leaving the four-seamers up in the zone after catcher Austin Barnes set up low on the left-hander’s glove side.

The third home run wasn’t as poorly located, as Slater got to a first-pitch slider above the knees for another solo shot in the fifth. But Kershaw couldn’t recover, getting the hook after allowing back-to-back doubles to Donovan Solano and Yastrzemski in the next two at-bats.

“Just had a couple rough innings there,” Kershaw said. “They did a good job. With two strikes they battled. Had good at-bats. Did a good job all the way through.”

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The Giants' Austin Slater, left, runs after hitting a solo homer off Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, front.
The Giants’ Austin Slater runs after homering off Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw in the third inning Saturday night. Slater hit two home runs off Kershaw.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The Dodgers’ offense didn’t come to life until later in the night, catching a huge break at the start of a four-run sixth inning.

With Giants starter Johnny Cueto working on a no-hitter, Kiké Hernández led off the inning with a high pop fly to left that should have been a routine catch for veteran outfielder Hunter Pence. But Pence lost its flight in the dim twilight sky, breaking toward the infield as the ball carried toward the warning track.

By the time Pence heard it land with a thud some 50 feet behind him, Hernández was already pulling into third, enabling him to score on Barnes’ grounder in the next at-bat.

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“You could see Cueto getting a little disturbed by that,” Roberts said.

Indeed, after issuing a pair of walks and getting a visit from the Giants’ training staff over an apparent foot issue, the right-hander hung a two-out curveball to Justin Turner for a three-run homer to left that trimmed the Giants’ lead to one.

The Dodgers couldn’t complete the comeback, though, mustering only one baserunner against the Giants’ bullpen over the final three innings.

And though it was Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol who surrendered the eventual game-deciding run in the sixth, Kershaw’s first loss of the season drew most of the postgame attention.

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Albert Pujols is about to eclipse Willie Mays on the all-time home run list, but there’s a chance he won’t hit the 700 mark in an Angels uniform.

“It’s one outing,” Roberts said, adding: “When you make mistakes to good hitters, that’s what’s going to happen. But as far as Clayton, we expect him to execute considerably more than he doesn’t. He’ll be fine.”

But keeping the ball in the park was at times a problem for Kershaw last season, when he allowed a career-high 28 home runs.

On days he allowed a homer, Kershaw was just 9-4 with a 4.41 ERA. And in his last appearance of the campaign, he infamously allowed back-to-back home runs in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

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The Dodgers hoped increased fastball velocity could help Kershaw, who still made last summer’s All-Star game and posted a 16-4 record, kick the trend. After he averaged 92 mph on his four-seamer last Sunday — almost two full ticks higher than his average 2019 velocity — Roberts thought the three-time Cy Young Award winner was giving himself extra margin for error.

That wasn’t the case against the Giants, though. Pitch speed — Kershaw averaged 91.5 on his fastball Saturday — wasn’t to blame in his ninth career game with at least three home runs against.

“My command,” Kershaw said, “just wasn’t quite as good tonight.”

Three observations on the Dodgers

— Chris Taylor filled in at shortstop for the injured Corey Seager, who missed Saturday’s game with a back injury. Scans on Seager’s back came back clean Friday night, and manager Dave Roberts said Seager would be day to day as he receives treatment.

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Max Muncy told SportsNet LA before Saturday’s game that he suffered a finger fracture during training camp. Muncy said he’s healthy now, though he has slumped to begin the season.

Brusdar Graterol allowed another run, surrendering a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning to raise his earned-run average to 5.40, the highest for any Dodgers reliever with at least two appearances.


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