Kershaw, Crawford carry LA in win

Clayton Kershaw made a nifty return to form.

Kershaw retired 18 consecutive batters and struck out 12 in eight dominant innings as the Los Angeles Dodgers, boosted by Carl Crawford’s two home runs, beat the Milwaukee Brewers 2-0 Sunday.

The 2011 NL Cy Young winner began the season with a shutout over San Francisco, and soon extended his scoreless streak to 16 innings.

Kershaw (3-2) failed to get through the sixth inning in each of his last two starts.

”It was good to see Kershaw back to his old self,” Crawford said. ”He struggled his last two outings, so to get him back on track is a plus for us.”

Kershaw left the clubhouse before reporters were allowed in after the game to tend to a personal matter.

”He’s a great pitcher,” said Ramon Hernandez, joined the Dodgers this season and hadn’t caught the All-Star in a game. ”Kershaw locates every pitch. He has an idea what he wants to do. He’s very smart. He always has a plan what he wants to do with every hitter he’s facing.”

Kershaw scattered four hits and didn’t walk a batter while lowering his ERA to 1.73. The left-hander, who led the NL in ERA in each of the previous two seasons, hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of his last 18 starts — the longest active streak in the majors. The last time he did was July 24, 2012, when he gave up eight at St. Louis.

”We ran into some good pitching,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said, shaking his head. ”This guy today, I wouldn’t want any part of him. When he’s on, you’re going to struggle to score. When he’s commanding the fastball inside, you’re in big trouble because there’s not much you can do with the pitch. And he knows when to throw the offspeed stuff away, so you can’t cover all of the plate.”

Kershaw stranded runners in scoring position in each of the first two innings, retiring Jonathan Lucroy on a double-play grounder in the first and striking out Martin Maldonado to end the second.

Kershaw gave up a leadoff double in the eighth to Carlos Gomez. The speedy runner tried to advance on Maldonado’s broken-bat comebacker to Kershaw and was tagged out by third baseman Juan Uribe in a rundown.

”That was an unbelievable play he made,” Uribe said. ”This guy, he can pitch, he can hit and he can make a good play, too. He’s a player. He’s unbelievable. You want to make plays for pitchers like that. Guys like that hustle the game along and they want to win the game. I’m happy for him that he won today.”

Brandon League pitched a perfect ninth inning for his eighth save in nine chances.

Crawford homered on the first pitch of the game from Kyle Lohse (1-2). It was the fourth time Lohse had given up a home run to his first batter in 336 career starts, and the first one that came on his very first pitch.

”The past week, guys have been getting ahead of me with the first pitch right down the middle. So I just picked today to be aggressive with the first pitch,” Crawford said. ”This is a tough ballpark to hit home runs in, but they say the ball flies better here in the daytime. So I caught a break today.”

Crawford’s second homer came on an 0-2 count in the fifth inning and landed in the right field pavilion. It was his sixth multihomer game in the majors and first since July 8, 2010, for Tampa Bay.

”They’ve pretty much given me the freedom to be myself and not try to be the traditional leadoff hitter who just takes a bunch of pitches and try to slap the ball,” Crawford said. ”I like to try to put a good swing on the ball and not just hit the ball to the shortstop and run. I mean, there’s times for that, but for the most part, I’m trying to hit the ball in the gap somewhere.”

NOTES: Lohse reached the 2,000-inning mark for his 13-year career when he retired Kershaw on a grounder to end the second. … Dodgers LHP Ted Lilly makes his second start on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series with Colorado. He is 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA in four career starts against the Rockies at Dodger Stadium. … Brewers RHP Yovani Gallardo will pitch the opener of a three-game set against Pittsburgh on Monday at Miller Park. He is 6-0 with a 2.18 ERA in his last seven starts overall against the Pirates.