LOS ANGELES – Clayton Kershaw seemingly didn’t know what to do with himself. At one point he untied his shoes. Then he paced the dugout for a little while. Then he sat down and stewed for a few minutes. Then he got up again, stood near the railing and watched closely.
The Los Angeles Dodgers ace batted to end the seventh inning, but didn’t come out to pitch the top of the eighth, even though he was at a pretty reasonable 95 pitches, 23 shy of his season high.
After the game, a 2-1 win over the Washington Nationals, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he simply “changed my mind” about trotting Kershaw back out for the eighth. Kershaw was visibly irritated with the decision, but didn’t let on in the postgame media scrum.
“There was a lot going on there both ways,” Kershaw said. “Without elaborating, that’s the way it went.”
Asked if he was surprised to be taken out, considering he came to bat a half-inning earlier, Kershaw smiled and said: “I’m going to say something cliché, but it is what it is. There you go.”
He was later asked if this was one of those games in which he simply didn’t want to exit, and he paused for a moment.
“I think I answered it as best as I’m going to.”
The Nationals began that eighth inning with a triple off Pedro Baez, putting the tying run 90 feet away. And had Baez not fielded a sharp comebacker from Bryce Harper, which allowed the Baez to catch Trea Turner in a rundown at the plate, Kershaw would not have captured his National League-leading eighth win this season.
Roberts said Kershaw “didn’t have his best stuff,” evidenced by the fact that he relied so heavily on his curveball. He added that Kershaw was “fine” with the decision to come out.
“He never wants to come out of the game, and I respect that,” Roberts said. “But it’s my decision to do what I think is best for the club, and I know he respects it.”
Roberts, in his second season as the Dodgers’ manager, believes “there’s a trust” between him and his best pitcher and that the extent of Kershaw’s leash will be decided on a game-by-game basis.
“There aren’t many better options than Clayton in any capacity, and I think that we all understand that,” Roberts said. “The game tells you how you should manage it.”
Roberts went the opposite way with his other great pitcher, Kenley Jansen, who recorded a four-out save to prevent a sweep. Jansen, who has a 1.11 ERA and has yet to issue a single walk this season, has recorded more than three outs on six separate occasions this season.
In this instance, Roberts extended Jansen because he went three days without pitching and because the Dodgers have an off day on Thursday.
Roberts said Jansen “wants the baseball, and I try to temper it as much as I can.”
“Your mind has to be strong,” Jansen said of going multiple innings as a closer. “Your body can get fatigued, but if your mind is always strong, you’re going to be good. I’m not trying to be a hero out there. Dave has done a terrific job controlling me. But games like this, I have to come and get four outs and help the bullpen, help the team, help everybody to win a ballgame.”