Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw has a pitching doppelganger in single A
Will Dion was a high school sophomore pitcher in Louisiana struggling to throw strikes when his pitching coach had an idea.
The coach, Jared Gothreaux, placed a box by Dion’s feet. He instructed Dion to put his right foot on it after lifting his leg up and pause before continuing his delivery to the plate. The point was to slow Dion down. Dion, a left-hander, did the drill until it became habit. Then came the final steps: removing the box and executing the delivery in one fluid motion.
One day, a friend noticed something: Dion’s new look was identical to Clayton Kershaw’s famous hitchy windup.
“I was like, ‘Huh?’” Dion said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I went home, watched some video, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ ”
Dion’s friend, Hadyn Stutes, was right. Dion and the future Hall of Famer had the same high leg kick. The same pause. They raised their arms the same way. They even had a similar pitch mix.
“I had a 12-6 curveball, and it looked just like his,” Dion said. “But it was probably 65 miles per hour in high school. All my pitches ended up acting the same way as his.
“But nothing was made to copy him. It wasn’t, ‘I’m copying him. I like that. I’m doing that.’ It wasn’t anything like that.”
Dion, 22, said he threw a no-hitter the first time he used the windup in a game as a junior at Sulphur High. He later starred at McNeese State, 10 minutes away in southwest Louisiana. He was good enough for the Cleveland Guardians to draft him in the ninth round of last year’s draft. And over the weekend, after his second start of the season for the single-A Lynchburg Hillcats, Dion went viral for his familiar delivery.
Kershaw had seen the clip by Wednesday. He seemed a bit surprised when he was told he wasn’t the inspiration for Dion’s mechanics. But he agreed Dion’s windup resembled his.
Kershaw, 34, crafted his windup under the tutelage of Skip Johnson, his first pitching coach and now the head coach at the University of Oklahoma. Johnson told him to move like his hands and front leg were on a string. Hands go up, leg goes up. Hands drop, leg drops.
“I took it pretty literally,” Kershaw said.
Kershaw made his 378th regular-season start Monday against the Atlanta Braves. The left-hander was charged with four runs over five-plus innings and earned his 100th win at Dodger Stadium after throwing seven perfect innings in his season debut.
Dion said he would’ve watched the game, but the Wi-Fi was out in his apartment in Lynchburg, a city of 80,000 people east of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.
He began tuning into Kershaw’s starts whenever he could when he realized they were pitching doppelgangers. He said he’d watch Kershaw to learn, to clean and improve his mechanics. He hasn’t seen Kershaw pitch in person, but he came close: Dion was in attendance for Game 4 of the 2017 World Series between the Dodgers and Astros in Houston. Kershaw started Game 5.
“He ended up drawing me in, especially with the Kershaw’s Challenge and all that stuff,” said Dion, who was 8 when Kershaw made his major league debut in 2008. “He ended being one of my favorite players. Not just on the field, but off the field as well.”
Dion, though, grew up a fan of the Astros and Boston Red Sox. His father works in Houston, about two hours from Sulphur, and he’d attend games at Minute Maid Park. His favorite player was former Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia because Pedroia, generously listed at 5 feet 9, was usually much shorter than his peers. Dion is listed at 5-10.
Clayton Kershaw had difficulty appreciating a standing ovation at Dodger Stadium after the Atlanta Braves knocked him out in the sixth inning of a win.
“I’m smaller,” Dion said. “His energy just drew me.”
Kershaw, meanwhile, is 6-4. So, Dion was given two nicknames playing off his size in college: “Baby Kershaw” and “Mini Kershaw.” Opposing fans came up with a third.
“I get a lot of boos, a lot of hate,” Dion said. “I just laugh when I hear boos or ‘Wannabe Kershaw’ or anything like that. Most people don’t know the true backstory behind it.”
To Dion’s point, he doesn’t resemble Kershaw pitching out of the stretch. Kershaw raises his arms above his head before striding toward the plate. Dion just goes to the side.
“That’s OK,” Kershaw said. “He probably doesn’t tip his pitches then.”
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