Clayton Kershaw has set the bar so high for himself that a six-hit outing over eight innings qualifies as a subpar effort for the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
The Los Angeles Dodgers ace walked two and allowed leadoff hitters to reach base in four of his first five innings but still came away with his 11th straight victory in a 5-1 win Sunday over the Milwaukee Brewers. He struck out six, nearly five below his average per nine innings.
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This equates to "struggling" for Kershaw.
"It was a struggle for him all day long. It felt like he was working hard but he kept battling and giving us chances," manager Don Mattingly said.
Nevertheless, Kershaw (14-2) lowered his league-leading ERA to 1.78 and tied for the NL lead in victories. Adrian Gonzalez drove in two runs and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth off Jimmy Nelson (2-3), and the Dodgers avoided a three-game sweep in a matchup of divisional leaders.
"It was a good one for us to bounce back and hopefully it gets us going in the right direction again," Mattingly said.
Kershaw also reached base three times and had an RBI single in the eighth. On the mound, Kershaw benefited from base-running blunders and aggressive play by the Brewers that went awry.
"It’s fun to feel like a baseball player every once in a while," Kershaw said. "We get labeled as pitchers only sometimes so it’s fun to get some dirt on your jersey every once in a while."
In the third, Nelson wasted his leadoff double after getting tagged out trying to advance from second on a grounder by Carlos Gomez. Later, Gomez was picked off first.
Rickie Weeks hit a leadoff double in fifth. Two batters later, Jean Segura popped up a squeeze attempt caught by a charging Kershaw in front of the plate. He threw to third to easily double off Weeks.
"I think anytime you face a pitcher like Kershaw, if you try to just get stagnant, I don’t think much is going to happen," manager Ron Roenicke said.
That strategy worked to perfection in the first. Gomez walked and stole second for his 25th steal of the year. Ryan Braun followed with an RBI single to stake Nelson to an early 1-0 lead.
But after a strong first couple innings, Nelson appeared to have trouble keeping his sinker down. Nelson allowed eight hits and two runs in six innings — too many against Kershaw,
Gonzalez increased his season RBI total to 79. His run-scoring double in the seventh came after Carl Crawford singled and move to third following two throwing errors on a pickoff attempt.
Nelson could be in line to start against Kershaw again on Friday when the Brewers start a three-game series in Los Angeles. Consider Sunday a learning experience for Brewers rookie.
"It is the high-stress pitches you want to stay away from. You don’t want to have to battle through three of your six innings," he said. "I just have to get the ball in the zone earlier in the count and force them to have early swings."
DODGERS: Shortstop Hanley Ramirez was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right rib cage muscle retroactive to Saturday. Manager Don Mattingly said the team was being overly cautious, and that Ramirez may need just the minimum time to recover.
BREWERS: Matt Garza, placed on the disabled list on Aug. 5 for a left rib cage muscle strain, won’t start throwing again until he is "completely pain-free," manager Ron Roenicke said. He added that Garza will likely need more than 15 days to return.
DODGERS: Dan Haren (9-9) is the scheduled starter Monday in Atlanta, though Mattingly said newly-acquired right-hander Kevin Correia (5-13) would likely take a spot turn to give the rest of the rotation extra rest. Los Angeles is in the midst of a 20-day stretch without a day off.
BREWERS: Milwaukee assured itself of a winning homestand against top NL West teams San Francisco and Los Angeles after taking the first two games against the Dodgers. Roenicke promised the team’s focus wouldn’t change when a four-game series starts Monday against the last-place Cubs in Chicago. Yovani Gallardo (6-6) gets the start.