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Column: Dodgers find themselves carrying Clayton Kershaw to victory more often

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - MAY 27: Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) pitches agai
Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) pitches against the New York Mets.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The last time Clayton Kershaw had an earned-run average this high was when he was a 20-year-old rookie.

He is giving up home runs more frequently than ever.

Never has he started a season like this — only that’s not entirely negative.

The Dodgers have won each of the eight games started by Kershaw this season, including their 9-5 victory over the New York Mets on Monday night at Dodger Stadium.

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Kershaw wasn’t great. And contrary to the self-evaluation he offered, he wasn’t awful, either. He was somewhere in between, which is what the Dodgers required of him against the Mets.

The 31-year-old left-hander was charged with three runs and 10 hits over six particularly laborious innings on a night when the opposing starter was right-hander Jacob deGrom, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner. Kershaw still improved to 5-0.

“Not many guys get an opportunity to pitch like that and get a win,” Kershaw said. “All the way around, the offense picked me up, the defense picked me up. Can’t say enough good [things] about our whole team in general and can’t really say anything good about me today.”

Kershaw’s ERA is a solid but unspectacular 3.46. The upside is that the Dodgers have won his last 16 starts dating to last season. Only one other time, in 2017, did the Dodgers win 16 consecutive games Kershaw started.

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“I’m so thankful to be on a great team,” Kershaw said.

The team Kershaw carried for so long is now carrying him.

Kershaw has won each of his last four starts, even though he has a 4.15 ERA over that stretch.

When Kershaw gave up a run in the first inning Monday, the Dodgers tied the score in the bottom half of the inning. When Kershaw surrendered a two-run home run in the fifth inning, the Dodgers ran up DeGrom’s pitch count to 105 that inning to set up a six-run ambush against the Mets’ fatigued bullpen in the sixth.

“It was a grind for Clayton,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He didn’t have a feel for any of his mix today, but he still found a way to give us six innings and a quality start.”

The defense behind Kershaw was crucial. Right fielder Cody Bellinger threw out Michael Conforto at home in the first inning. Shortstop Corey Seager’s relay throw in the fifth inning cut down Tomas Nido at the plate.

“I could have easily given up five runs today and put our team out of a chance to win the game,” Kershaw said.

Asked whether he derived any satisfaction from the team’s record in games he has started, he replied, “I don’t know. It’s kind of a double-edge sword a little bit just because it could mean you’ve pitched really well but it’s that whole thing about a win as a starter. It’s not that big of a deal, but if your team wins, ultimately, that’s why you play the game, right? I don’t know. It’s a misleading stat sometimes.”

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Kershaw smiled as he spoke, which raised a question about whether he has become a different person at this stage of his career.

There were times in the not-so-distant past when Kershaw would speak to reporters after games with adrenaline still obviously coursing through his veins. The current version of him appears more light hearted, funnier, maybe even happier.

“Maybe I should quit and start being more serious,” he said, jokingly. “I would pitch better.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - MAY 27: In-Camera Multiple Exposure of Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Cl
In-camera multiple exposure of Clayton Kershaw.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

One particular suggestion on how to describe Kershaw cracked up Roberts.

“Softened’s definitely not the right word,” Roberts said with a chuckle.

Roberts wasn’t about to say anything that could imply Kershaw had lost his edge. He’s not an idiot.

“There’s certainly growth,” Roberts said. “Things aren’t always black and white [for him]. That comes with experiences, whether it be success, failures, health, injury, life experiences, all that stuff, I think he has continued to change his outlook on things.”

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What Kershaw acknowledged was that what has changed is how he is enjoying the game.

“Yeah, I think so. I was more driven from start to start, really focused on individual things ... ” he said, before pausing and reconsidering.

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“That’s not true, either. I don’t know. I think I just have a better appreciation having been around for a little while, realizing how hard it is to be on good teams, win and be around a good group of guys. It’s a special thing. Now with kids and stuff, just realizing how special that is to get to share this with them. So maybe just a better sense of appreciation for being here.”

He is now a father to a girl and a boy who enjoy spending time on the field with him before games.

And the Dodgers are scoring runs for him now, enough to where they have made him unbeatable.

They could soon make him a World Series champion.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez


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