One reason the Los Angeles Dodgers went with Clayton Kershaw on short rest over Julio Urias against the Washington Nationals in Game 4 of the National League Division Series was the taxed state of their bullpen. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts trusted Kershaw to pitch deep into the game.
That appeared to be in real jeopardy after the first inning. Kershaw allowed just one run but expended 27 pitches to limit the damage. There was some traffic and another run scored in the third, but Kershaw otherwise settled in.
He was sharper than the Game 1 start and didn’t look much of a pitcher who’d thrown 101 pitches over five innings just four days prior. But then came the seventh inning.
Kershaw exited with two outs, the bases loaded, and the Dodgers holding a 5-2 lead. Pedro Baez and Luis Avilan combined to allow three inherited runners to score.
The Dodgers gutted out a 6-5 win behind Chase Utley’s go-ahead single in the eighth inning, forcing a Game 5. Kershaw didn’t factor into the decision, but his postseason ERA remains inflated.
“I thought it was OK,” he said of his pitches after the game. “I’m thankful that we pulled it out.” It was the fourth time in his career Kershaw started on short rest in the postseason. He’s grown more accustomed to it, and told the Dodgers he was prepared to do so in the NLDS.
“I didn’t want them to not pitch me, because they didn’t think I could do it,” Kershaw said. “I’ve done it four years in a row now. I tell them the same thing every year, ‘Hey, if you want me to do it, great. Just let me know.'”
Although he’s gained experience with pitching on three days’ rest, Tuesday’s start nonetheless took its toll. “Every pitch matters in these games. Sometimes it’s tough to think about what’s going on,” Kershaw said.
“You’re just thinking about the next pitch over and over again until you’re done. I’m exhausted, just physically and mentally drained. We get to live another day, so overall just exhaled more than anything.”
Not one to heap praise on himself, Kershaw’s teammates once more raved about his performance. “Kersh on short rest was unbelievable. He pitched his butt off,” Justin Turner said.
“He’s amazing, he really is. I’ve only been around him for about a year or so,” Utley, a hero in his own right, said. “And he’s the best pitcher that I’ve played behind; other than Roy Halladay, those two are very close.”
The compliments were limited to just Kershaw’s teammates. “Kershaw was outstanding. That’s one of the best performances I’ve seen, especially on three days’ rest,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.
Prior to allowing the seventh inning get away, Kershaw benefitted from a diving catch by Joc Pederson that helped prevent the Nationals from scratching in the sixth. That didn’t go unnoticed by the three-time Cy Young Award winner.
“That inning they hit some balls hard, to get that guy out was huge,” said Kershaw. “It could’ve very easily been first and third (base) right there.
“I think that was probably the biggest out. Other than that, maybe the strikeout of (Jayson) Werth in the first inning to make sure I can get an out. From there, I settled in a little bit more.”