As Clayton Kershaw re-negotiated a contract extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers to add an additional three years after the 2018 World Series, it appeared his days as one of baseball’s best pitchers may be over.
Kershaw had suffered a disappointing season in 2018 in which he missed significant time due to injury for the third straight year. He finished with a 2.73 ERA, a solid mark but still his highest since 2010.
Due to his injury-marred first half, Kershaw also failed to make the National League All-Star team for the first time since nearly a decade ago.
However, the franchise icon has shown thus far in 2019 that he still has plenty left in the tank. Kershaw has stayed remarkably healthy ever since shoulder trouble in Spring Training kept him out through the first three weeks of the regular season.
From his start against the San Diego Padres on July 5 through an outing against the New York Yankees, Kershaw currently has a streak of nine quality starts. During that time, his season ERA has dipped from 3.23 to 2.76.
Unsurprisingly to anyone who has followed the ultra-competitive Kershaw, the 12-year veteran still believes he can get back to the dominant force that made him the unquestioned best pitcher in baseball at his peak, per Bill Plunkett of the Southern California News Group:
“I’ve always said this – I don’t accept anything,” he says. “You’re always searching for what you were at your peak. You’re always thinking, ‘Hey, I did it before. I can do it again.’ In my head, I still believe that.
“But at the same time, that doesn’t mean you can’t go pitch and be thinking about what you’ve got. You know what I mean? On that fifth day, you still have to be, hey, you have to go compete with what you have that day and do what you always do, get guys out. I don’t care how it looks, I’m going to do it.”
Kershaw may no longer be the unquestioned ace of the Dodgers’ staff, but that has more to do with Hyun-Jin Ryu’s career year and Walker Buehler’s continued excellence than Kershaw’s decline. All three starters made the NL All-Star team, marking the eighth time this decade that Kershaw has done so.
Kershaw’s fastball velocity is still notably lower than it was in his 2014 MVP season and he is not necessarily the overpowering, unhittable strikeout machine he was then. Yet his pitch command, along with his trademark curveball and slider, remain elite.
While he may still be trying to reach the level that he was during his physical prime, Kershaw has shown the capacity to work with what he is capable of as a seasoned veteran and remain an elite pitcher.
It only helps cement his legacy as one of the greatest players to ever wear a Dodgers uniform.