After a tough few outings, Clayton Kershaw is backing to pitching at Cy Young form.
Kershaw rebounded with seven dominant innings and got two-run homers from Yasiel Puig and A.J. Ellis as the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the San Diego Padres, 4-0, on Saturday night.
Two days after clinching their first division title since 2009, the Dodgers turned to their ace who delivered a gem as he struck out 10 and allowed just three hits.
Kershaw (15-9) lowered his major league-best ERA to 1.88. He leads the NL with 224 strikeouts.
The left-hander was held out of his last start on Wednesday to allow him more rest as the playoffs approach.
”I felt good, so I guess that’s a bonus,” Kershaw said. "A little bit erratic at first with the fastball but A.J. did a real good job of making me use all my pitches on both sides of the plate.”
In his previous three September starts, Kershaw wasn’t as sharp as normal, going 1-1 with a 4.26 ERA.
Kershaw is trying to become the first pitcher to lead the majors in ERA in three consecutive seasons since Atlanta’s Greg Maddux from 1993-95.
The last Dodger to finish a season with a sub-2.00 ERA was Sandy Koufax (1.73) in 1966.
San Diego had Kershaw’s number this season, defeating him in all three previous starts. The 2011 Cy Young Award winner was 0-3 with a 4.67 ERA in his first three starts against the Padres, while going 14-6 with a 1.71 ERA in his other starts.
”(San Diego) is a tough team. They battle me,” Kershaw said. ”They put good at-bats on me and always seem to get my pitch count up. I felt good to finally get a win against these guys.”
Said Padres rookie second baseman Jedd Gyorko: ”I think the difference was being able to get those key hits. You can’t get him all the time and he kind of got us. I’d say our at-bats were just as good as any other game against him. We just couldn’t push through.”
San Diego had runners on first and second in the first with one out and men on second and third with no outs in the third and couldn’t score either time against Kershaw.
”They’ve been successful against him the last couple of years,” Ellis said. ”They grind him better than any team he’s faced throughout the season. He’s kind of become a one-sided guy against these guys. Fastball in, slider, occasional curveball (with) two strikes. I think he was ready for something different.”
Ellis homered in the fourth off rookie Burch Smith (1-2).
”It was a changeup that was a little bit up that ran into his bat,” Smith said.
Puig then connected on a shot to center field off Tim Stauffer in the seventh that was estimated at 457 feet. Kershaw reached on a bunt single to lead off the inning.
Kershaw retired 14 of his last 15 batters. Relievers Ronald Belisario and Brian Wilson each pitched a perfect inning for the Dodgers.
Los Angeles played all of its starters, except shortstop Hanley Ramirez. The Dodgers held out all of their regulars in a 2-0 loss to the Padres on Friday night, one day after clinching their first division title since 2009.
Smith gave up two runs on three hits in six innings. The rookie struck out six and walked a career-high five.
NOTES: Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is resting Ramirez to help him recover from back and hamstring injuries that have plagued him throughout the season. Ramirez is expected to see limited playing time before the postseason. … Dodgers OF Andre Ethier (sprained left ankle) missed his eighth straight game. Ethier, who took batting practice and did running drills before the game, could return when the Dodgers start a three-game series at San Francisco on Tuesday. … Smith’s third-inning single was his first major league hit. … Dodgers RHP Zack Greinke (15-3, 2.75 ERA) will pitch at Petco Park for the first time since he sustained a broken left collarbone on April 11 during a brawl with Carlos Quentin, who was hit with a pitch and charged the mound. Quentin, who recently had knee surgery, is out of the season. … RHP Andrew Cashner (10-8, 3.21) pitches for San Diego on Sunday.