Once again Friday night, a Clayton Kershaw pitching performance was highlighted by familiar buzz words.
Slider, curveball, and A.J. Ellis.
As Kershaw survived five rocky innings in the Dodgers' 4-3 victory over the Washington National in the opener of a National League division series, there was as much talk about his traded catcher as his pitches.
Isn't it obvious how much Kershaw misses his baseball soulmate Ellis? How could the Dodgers have dealt someone so important to the best pitcher on the planet? And, really, why was Yasmani Grandal coming to the mound so much?
"There's no doubt that A.J. did a great job with him, but you can't really think about that,'' Grandal said Saturday before rain caused the postponement of Game 2. "That's in the past. We live in the present.''
In the present, it is clear that Kershaw doesn't quite connect with Grandal. Both players say the numerous mound visits Friday night were necessary for a constant changing of the signs.
This is understandable considering several years ago there was talk that the St. Louis Cardinals were stealing signs from second base when Kershaw was getting rocked in the playoffs.
"I wanted to be sure of the signs, we were trying to change 'em up pretty often,'' Kershaw said. "It was mainly that I had so many guys on second base.''
But still, there seems to be something missing between the pitcher and catcher, a certain rhythm that is absent when they work together. When Ellis was traded, Kershaw reportedly shed a tear, and it appears the full-time adjustment to Grandal has been slow.
"Obviously, A.J. did a great job kind of getting Kershaw by the hand when he first got to the big leagues and making him into the pitcher that he is today,'' Grandal said.
However, when it comes to Grandal and Kershaw, the statistics work. While the fluidity isn't apparent on the mound, the numbers support Grandal over Ellis, which is one reason the Dodgers felt comfortable making the trade.
Before Friday, in 155 innings with Grandal, Kershaw had a 1.86 earned-run average. With Ellis, he had a 1.97 ERA in 829 innings.
Grandal is renowned for framing pitches, which can lead to more strikes, and, sure enough, Kershaw's strikeout-to-walk ratio with Grandal has been 9.89 while with Ellis it was 5.29.
"The way I see it is, I'm going to try and do as good as I can do back there to help him out,'' Grandal said. "If it's getting a strike here and there; if it's getting the chemistry on the same page … but yeah, I'm going to do as much as I can do.''
Then there's Grandal's contributions at the plate, which is the biggest difference between the two catchers. In two seasons with the Dodgers, Grandal has 43 home runs and 119 runs batted in. In Ellis' nine-year Dodgers career, he had 36 homers and 101 RBIs.
So the numbers folks will take Grandal, while the chemistry folks would still lean toward Ellis. And that probably won't change until Kershaw and Grandal can combine to lead this team to a World Series.
While Kershaw publicly supports both catchers, Grandal says the bottom line is that when it comes to a three-time Cy Young Award winner, it probably doesn't matter who is behind the plate.
"To see a guy prepare the way he does, I mean, he was going to be good no matter what,'' Grandal said.
On that point, few could argue.