The 2019 season twice saw somewhat of a changing of the guard with respect to Clayton Kershaw. First, a shoulder injury prevented him from starting Opening Day, which led to the los Angeles Dodgers handing the ball to Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Ryu pitched like the ace of the Dodgers’ staff for much of the year, but come the postseason, it was Walker Buehler who started Game 1 of the National League Division Series. It marked a second consecutive year Kershaw didn’t start the playoff opener after doing so since 2013.
Kershaw was slotted for Game 2 against the Washington Nationals, which would leave him available out of the bullpen if the series did not end in a sweep. Sure enough, Kershaw was prepared to enter in relief during Game 4, but the opportunity didn’t arise.
That came in a decisive Game 5 at Dodger Stadium, which saw Kershaw surrender back-to-back home runs in an eventual loss. Following the defeat he placed the Dodgers’ elimination squarely on his shoulders.
Rick Honeycutt, who is transitioning from pitching coach to special assistant in the front office, used that moment to console Kershaw, via Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
“He just went around the room that night and just broke down, apologizing to everybody,” Honeycutt said of Kershaw, who blew a save by allowing eighth-inning home runs to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto two innings before the Dodgers were eliminated in the National League Division Series.
“I remember playing with [Dennis] Eckersley, he was so good, and you can still come back and do it, but you give up the home run [to Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series] and you’re the last line of defense and don’t do your job — it’s painful. You’re used to succeeding and you feel like you’ve let the other guys down. I told [Kershaw], ‘There’s nothing I can say right now, but I want you to know I care about you and we all hurt. You’ve always given everything you got and when you do that, you shouldn’t let this eat at you. You got us here.’ Told him I love him and care about him.”
Kershaw and Honeycutt have a relationship few others in the sport’s history could rival. Honeycutt has been Kershaw’s pitching coach since the left-hander made his MLB debut in 2008.
Honeycutt, a former Dodgers pitcher, returned to the organization as a consultant in 2001. The following year he assumed more duties as the Minor League pitching coordinator, which was a position Honeycutt held through 2005.
He then became pitching coach on the Dodgers’ Major League staff in 2006 and was a mainstay as the organization cycled through managers.