LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers seek a series split with the Atlanta Braves on Sunday, and their chances are good with Clayton Kershaw on the mound.
Kershaw is having another Cy Young-like season at 15-2 with a 2.07 ERA. And now that he’s using a changeup — his fourth pitch, he’s even more effective.
“It’s obviously his fourth-best pitch, but to have that in the hitter’s mind, I think it’s a benefit,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He doesn’t use it often, but he’s gotten some big outs with it. Some big strikeouts with it. For him, it’s one of those things where to be great, and to even consider or be open to using your fourth-best pitch more often, that’s sometimes a tough sell.
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“But Clayton has the open-mindedness to continue to grow and wanting to get better. It’s one of those things you kind of try to introduce it a little more. I think you’ll probably see the wiggle from Yasmani (Grandal’s) fingers more often than it has been in the past. It’s still a hard sell when you’re Clayton and you have three better pitches.”
It’s a duel of left-handlers as the Braves counter with Sean Newcombe, who’s still searching for his second victory of the season. He’s 1-5 with a 4.68 ERA.
Newcombe, a 6-foot-5 rookie, pitched well in his first four starts but struggled in the last three, allowing 16 runs in 12 2/3 innings. He’ll be on a big stage opposing Kershaw.
The Dodgers (67-31) have a 10 1/2-game lead in the National League West. The Braves are trying to cut into Washington’s 11-game lead on them in the NL East.
The Braves (47-49) won the first two games of the series. They erupted for 12 runs on Friday, the most they’d ever scored at Dodger Stadium. But they couldn’t do much against Rich Hill on Saturday, and if Kershaw is his typically stingy self, they’ll have to scratch and claw for runs.
Atlanta is expected to have second baseman Brandon Phillips back in the lineup as he missed the last two games with hamstring soreness. Justin Turner, who was sick Saturday, is expected to be back in the lineup for the Dodgers.
Even with Atlanta securing wins in the first two games of the series, which snapped the Dodgers’ 11-game win streak, manager Brian Snitker’s Braves couldn’t rest easy. The Dodgers post a deep lineup.
“It’s tough. They keep coming at you,” Snitker said. “I said (Friday), even in that game, we got the big lead and you just never feel comfortable against these guys. They’re so aggressive. They just keep coming at you. They have guys coming in off the bench that are really tough outs. They’re deep. They’re deep, deep.”
Chase Utley, 38, homered Saturday for the sixth time this season and continues to impress offensively and defensively.
In his last 29 games at Dodger Stadium, Utley is hitting .299 with 14 runs, 10 doubles, four home runs and 15 RBIs.
“Those hands just keep working,” Snitker said. “He’s a baseball player. He just keeps playing the game.”