Given their constant look of joy and happiness, and the fact that they are, well, made of cardboard and not real, the concept of just how good Clayton Kershaw is and what he was doing on the mound vs. the Mariners on Thursday afternoon, was lost on the 13,000-plus cut-outs of Mariners fans filling the entire lower bowl of T-Mobile Park as well as the left-field bleachers and part of the terrace club levels.
But Seattle hitters got to experience it first-hand, many for the first time, and trying to hit greatness is a less-than-enjoyable experience.
The Dodgers ace delivered a seven-inning reminder of the overpowering stuff, pinpoint pitch execution and ruthless approach on the mound that has made him a three-time National League Cy Young winner and the best left-handed pitcher of this generation. He carved up Seattle’s collection of inexperienced hitters with relative ease, allowing one run on four hits with a walk and 11 strikeouts in a decisive 6-1 Dodgers’ victory.
“We got shut down by a very good pitcher,” manager Scott Servais said in a postgame video conference. “
Very good might be an understatement for a pitcher that will have a plaque in Cooperstown, likely in his first year of eligibility.
Among all the other misfortunes and regrets surrounding this COVID-shortened 2020 season without fans in attendance, missing the opportunity to see a future Hall of Fame pitcher still performing at an exquisite level is a shame. For fans in Seattle, seeing him pitch is a rare occurrence.
This was just Kershaw’s third career start in Seattle. He’s now 3-0 with a 2.14 ERA, allowing five earned runs in 21 total innings with four walks and 30 strikeouts in T-Mobile.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the game for a reason,” said Kyle Seager in a postgame video call. “You know when you are facing guys of that caliber it’s going to be a tough day. You have to grind. He was definitely sharp today. He located it well. He was spinning it well. The cutter/slider was good. The curveball had some bite. That’s pretty standard for him.”
Of the hitters on the Mariners roster only three had ever faced Kershaw in their career — Seager, Dee Gordon and J.P. Crawford — and Crawford and Gordon weren’t in the lineup. The rest had never seen him.
“Oh, they’ve seen him,” Servais said. “They’ve just never stood in the batter’s box (against Kershaw) and that’s the big difference. They’re learning. When you get a veteran pitcher out there like that who’s on top of his game, it’s a struggle. You’ve got to really battle. You’re not going to get a ton of good pitches to hit. When you get on, you got to get it in play. Give him credit, he was really good today. Our guys learned a lot.”
Given that his career will likely be spent entirely with the Dodgers, the vagaries of interleague play and the still looming fear that fans might not be allowed into games next season, who knows when Kershaw will pitch in Seattle again. The Dodgers do return to T-Mobile in 2021 for a two-game series April 19-20.
Then again, the Mariners would just as well avoid him if possible. While he’s tough on all hitters, Kershaw has been particularly dominant in interleague play. His outing against the Mariners was his 40th interleague start. He has a 20-5 record with a 2.17 ERA. In 273 1/3 interleague innings, he’s struck out 303 batters.
“Unfortunately you are going to have days like this,” Seager said. “”Fortunately for the young guys, there’s not too many Clayton Kershaws out there. So they don’t have to worry about that on an everyday basis, which makes it a little bit easier.”
The Mariners’ lone run off Kershaw came in the fourth inning when Seager pulled a 3-1 slider in the middle of the plate into the right-field seats for his fifth homer of the season. The Mariners had just four total hits in the game, going hitless against the Dodgers bullpen.
The Mariners got an uneven start from lefty Yusei Kikuchi, who missed his previous start with neck spasms and hadn’t pitched in a game in 12 days. After two 1-2-3 innings to begin his outing, Kikuchi gave up four runs in the third inning and was charged with another in the fifth inning he couldn’t finish.
“In the first inning, I felt like everything was fine and the neck was feeling great,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “I do feel like I got slider happy in the inning. It is a pitch that I have a lot of confidence in.”
Kikuchi shrugged off what appeared to be a strikeout of Matt Beaty that plate umpire Adrian Johnson called a foul ball. Replays show that the ball didn’t touch Beaty’s bat. But that play isn’t reviewable. Beaty hit an RBI double to start the issues.
“I didn’t see it from my angle,” Kikuchi said. “But I should have still got him out with the next pitch.”
Kikuchi’s final pitching line: 4 2/3 innings, five runs allowed on four hits with four walks and five strikeouts. He faced 22 batters and registered just nine first-pitch strikes.
“He wasn’t quite as sharp and crisp,” Servais said. “The key with him, as it’s been all year, he’s got to use the curveball. In the third inning, he ran into fastball, hard cutter, fastball, hard cutter, he really didn’t have the soft pitch to slow them down in a number of those at-bats. He has to continue to throw it. That back and forth pitch is really, really important.”