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A decade of dominance as seen by the ace and

April 17, 2018 05:19AM
CLAYTON KERSHAW CRACKED open a window into the future on May 25, 2008. One minute, Vin Scully was introducing the television audience to the 2006 first-round MLB draft pick from Texas with the smooth cheeks and slight hesitation in his delivery. Thirty-two pitches later, Kershaw walked off the mound having struck out the side against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning of his major league debut.
While the crowd of 46,566 at Dodger Stadium exulted in the possibilities, the fans had no idea how deeply the blips between, "Good morning, good afternoon and goodnight'' would resonate with Kershaw. A decade later, he recoils at the notion he made things look easy by whiffing Skip Schumaker, Ryan Ludwick and Troy Glaus in that Sunday matinee.
"Yeah, and I walked the second guy and gave up a double to Pujols,'' he said. The box score is a testament to his annoyance. Kershaw walked Brian Barton on Alex Erickson Youth jersey four pitches before allowing a double to deep left-center by Albert Pujols for his first big league run. That is his biggest takeaway from the inning.
Kershaw recovered from that indignity to go six strong, and he has encountered very few blips since. If he handed the ball to manager Dave Roberts after his Opening Day start this week and kept on walking, he would go straight to Cooperstown on the first ballot.
Kershaw turned 30 years old March 19 and has three Cy Young Awards, an MVP, five ERA titles, four strikeout titles and seven straight All-Star Games on his résumé. He's paid like an ace, with three years and $98 million left on the mammoth contract extension he signed in 2014. Kershaw has to decide by November whether he'll exercise an opt-out clause in the deal. Based on his 21 1/3 scoreless innings and 23-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Cactus League, he's not exactly stressing it.
With his 10-year anniversary in the majors approaching, Kershaw talked to about his evolution as a pitcher and a professional. How did he get here, and how does he plan to maintain the level of performance he has established? The best pitcher in baseball and some fellow passengers on his journey reflect on the pivotal moments, revelations and attributes that have helped make Kershaw Kershaw.
Kershaw's rookie year was a mixed bag. He logged a 4.26 ERA in 22 appearances and walked 52 batters in 107 1/3 innings. Command of the strike zone was a problem, and the issues spilled over into April 2009. After Kershaw got clobbered by the Astros and Rockies in back-to-back starts, manager Joe Torre and hitting coach Don Mattingly summoned him to Clayton Keller Authentic Jersey the office for some straight talk. "Joe and Donnie were in there and basically said, 'Look, if you're not throwing your curveball for a strike, you have one pitch,'" Kershaw said. "They told me, 'You need to figure something out.'"
Kershaw has always found spinning a ball more natural than mastering the arm speed and grip required to make a changeup work. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt showed him a slider grip, and he began tinkering with input from bullpen catcher Mike Borzello. In 2009, he threw the slider about 7 percent of the time. Last year, his slider usage was a whopping 35 percent. Among elite big league pitchers, only Tampa Bay's Chris Archer made more liberal use of the pitch.
"The curveball was working well, but it wasn't a pitch you could call," said Mark Sweeney, a member of the 2008 Dodgers. "It was so nasty, it was a swing-and-miss pitch, but you couldn't drop it in for a strike. It had so much depth to it, but it had that arc to it where you weren't going to get the call. And a lot of hitters tried to stay off it because they couldn't do much with it. The slider really was the separator. That took him to a different level."
'The hitters will tell you what you need to Ales Hemsky Womens Jersey do'
Kershaw's pitch usage through the years reflects his ability to read situations and adjust. His fastball usage peaked at 72 percent in 2009 and gradually declined to 47 percent in 2017. Even with 2,057 innings' worth of big league wear on his arm, Kershaw's velocity has held firm at a tick under 93 mph. But he threw fastballs last year at the same rate as Jason Vargas, whose 85.6 mph was the slowest in the majors by a pitcher not Claude Giroux Jersey named R.A. Dickey. "None of this is on purpose,'' Kershaw said. "It's just a matter of what's working -- what you feel like you need to do to get guys out. I never go into a season thinking I'm going to use a certain pitch one way or the other. The hitters will tell you what you need to do.
Through time, Kershaw has discovered that a well-placed fastball complemented by an 88 mph slider and a 73 mph curveball can bring success even with negligible use of a changeup. His two breaking balls live in blissful harmony and complement each other wonderfully. Lefty hitters have a .190/.243/.308 career slash line against him. Righties are only a tad less overwhelmed, at .210/.266/.306. "Two completely different grips," Kershaw said of the slider and curve. "Two completely different thought processes, so that really helps me to differentiate between the two. I have to have both of them. I can't just live off one or the other. I have to have both.",103902

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