ATLANTA - Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw has been performing at a high level all season. The pressure of a postseason start did nothing to change that.
Kershaw threw seven solid innings in the Dodgers’ 6-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Kershaw worked without his best stuff in the early innings, but he settled down like the Cy Young that he is. The lefty struck out nine of his final 11 batters faced.
Kershaw allowed one run on three hits, walking three and striking out 12.
“It might be (my) best (game) just because it’s my first postseason win,” he said.
He only had three strikeouts through the first three innings, low for his caliber against a Braves lineup that strikes out often. But he avoided hard contact and didn’t allow his first and only run until the fourth.
Kershaw relied on his fastball early in the game, reaching back for 95 miles per hour in some cases. By the fifth inning and third time through the order, he was turning heavily to his slider and curveball.
As a result, Kershaw racked up strikeouts in the late innings. He struck out the side twice in his final three innings behind a slider and curveball not seen much until those frames.
“A.J. (Ellis) did a good job, started calling more breaking balls there towards the middle innings, able to get some swings and misses when I needed it, and it kind of worked out that way,” he said.
As expected, Kershaw created a hot spot on the inner half against right-handed batters, and the outer half to lefties. It’s the strategy he has turned to for much of his career, and it worked well again in Atlanta.
“I thought, offensively, we had a nice game plan against Kershaw; we just couldn’t get the base hit,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We were patient at the plate, we were keeping the pitch count up, and he never gave us an opportunity.”
It was a different result for Braves starter Kris Medlen, who couldn’t continue his hot pitching from the final stretch.
Medlen was never able to fully utilize his usual game plan, throwing only 14 changeups compared to 15 curveballs. The small right-hander usually turns to his changeup early and often, but failing to establish the fastball prevented him from doing so.
Medlen allowed at least one run in three consecutive innings between the second and fourth. The big hit came in the third when Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hit a first-pitch changeup for a home run to center field.
He allowed five runs on nine hits in four innings, walking one and striking out four.
During his rough innings, Medlen was leaving pitches in hittable spots. While his changeup to Gonzalez was down and away, it didn’t catch enough of the outside corner, and Medlen called it “a very bad 0-0 changeup.” The case was similar for other hard-hit pitches, several coming on the fastball.
Medlen was unable to keep up with the game. He was knocked around in the first few innings, and it threw him off his game plan. By the time he could settle in with his changeup, his outing was over.
“They’re a great team, and when you have an opposing pitcher on the mound who is as good as Kershaw, I mean, there’s not a lot of room for error tonight,” Medlen said.