LOS ANGELES — It was supposed to be a battle between the two best young left-handed starting pitchers in baseball. However, as is often the case when there’s a highly touted matchup, it didn’t quite live up to the billing.
Reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw was shaky from the beginning, as Adam Dunn launched a two-run homer in the top of the first that gave the White Sox the early lead. Alex Rios also hit solo shots to left field in the fifth and eighth innings to put the White Sox up 5-1, then tie the game at six. Later, though, it was Sale’s turn to give it all back, and both pitchers registered no-decisions in the 7-6 Dodger win.
The winning run crossed the plate courtesy of a wild pitch thrown by White Sox reliever Matt Thornton, who bounced the ball in front of the plate in the bottom of the eighth with the game tied at six, allowing James Loney to score and give the Dodgers their 41st win.
While Chicago’s Dunn and Rios, and the Dodgers’ Elian Herrera (3 RBI) had big games, the stars of the night were supposed to be the two starters, each of whom has been successful despite some odd circumstances.
For Sale, still 8-2, it was just a few weeks ago when he complained about soreness in his arm and Chicago pulled him from the rotation, made him the closer, THEN took an MRI that showed no damage and put him back in the starting five. He returned and struck out 15 Tampa Bay Rays, tossing 115 pitches just days after some in the organization were talking possible season-ending surgery.
The 23-year-old Floridian maintains he never told anyone he had pain in his elbow, merely that “it was sore.” And he feels first year manager Robin Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper overreacted to his complaint when they moved him into the ‘pen. Cooper disagrees.
“We felt it was the best way to keep him healthy and strong,” said Cooper, one of the most respected pitching mentors in the major leagues. “He was upset, but sometimes we have to make decisions based on what we feel is best for the individual. So, that’s what we did.” In his lone relief appearance, he blew a save against Cleveland on May 8 — Chicago came back and won the game — and then he was scheduled for the MRI. Why the Sox and GM Ken Williams waited for the determining exam and continued to let Sale pitch is baffling to nearly everyone around the White Sox, including the pitcher and his representative.
In an email, BB Abbott told White Sox beat writer Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune:
“In short, yes I am extremely concerned about the way the White Sox have approached this entire situation with Chris and his future. It is his future, isn’t it?” It is indeed, and even after the MRI results came up negative, there was still debate about Sale’s role on the team. Finally, Ventura returned the talented Sale back to the rotation and he’s been lights out since.
Even with the no-decision against the Dodgers, he’s won five in a row since his brief sojourn to the bullpen, but he was charged with 5 runs to see his ERA jump nearly a half-run from 2.03 to 2.46.
2012 began on a sour note for Kershaw, who came down with a virus and had to leave his opening day assignment in San Diego after just three innings. And while he has a 5-3 record and 2.86 ERA and a WHIP of 1.04 after the meeting with Sale and the Sox, he hasn’t seemed as dominant as a year ago, when he was on his way to the N.L. pitching Triple Crown.
He’s acknowledged that he’s suffering from Plantar Fasciitis in his left foot, but reports that it doesn’t cause him any problems while he’s pitching. If you watched him in Friday’s start against Chicago or his previous three outings in which he surrendered 11 runs in 19.2 innings, it apparent that he’s not the dominating presence that he was in 2011. Kershaw said the foot still bothers him while running, but not when he’s pitching.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Got everybody to 0-2 (counts) and couldn’t put anybody away, but there’s nothing wrong. (The guys) picked me up tonight, and there’s a lot of confidence going on in that dugout. I can’t explain it and I don’t know why, but it’s a fun time to be a Dodger.”
The Dodgers have shown remarkable resilience in fighting off injuries and illness this season to post the best record in the game. Even with MVP candidate Matt Kemp out for a second time due to hamstring problems, Don Mattingly’s crew just keeps rolling along. Mattingly also said there’s no problem with Kershaw’s foot that would affect him in a game, saying “I haven’t heard anything about it that would make me think there’s something wrong. He gives up a couple of home runs and everyone wants to know if something’s wrong. There’s not.”
However, if Kershaw’s ailment is currently more serious than he’s saying, or eventually gets worse and affects his performance, it could be the one loss this team won’t be able to overcome. Even with the unending optimism of everyone wearing a Dodger uniform.
“The team’s playing so good, and everybody believes in each other,” said Kershaw. “That makes it pretty awesome.”
NOTES…Ronald Bellisario (2-0) was the winner, Matt Thornton (2-4) taking the loss for Chicago. Kenley Jansen earned his 11th save in 14 tries, after losing both games to the Angels earlier in the week…..When the Dodgers rallied for five runs in the bottom of the sixth to take a 6-5 lead, it marked the fifth time this season they’ve scored five or more runs in a single inning.