Clayton Kershaw puts on vintage performance in Dodgers' victory over Reds

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CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 19: Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the first inning.
Left-hander Clayton Kershaw limited the Cincinnati Reds to one run and three hits over five innings, helping the Dodgers win 8-5. He struck out eight and walked none. (Emilee Chinn / Getty Images)

For a few minutes Sunday afternoon, Clayton Kershaw took a break from his pregame stretching routine and sat alone in left field at Great American Ball Park. He hunched over with his head down under a boiling sun. Fans gawked. They shot photos and videos. They screamed his name.

Kershaw remained seated in the grass. He was about to make his 374th career regular-season start and second since coming off the injured list. He was getting another chance to help the Dodgers chase down the San Francisco Giants in the National League West. It’s all he wanted after forearm inflammation sidelined him for more than two months.

He ran with the opportunity in vintage, if abbreviated, fashion in the Dodgers’ 8-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds. The left-hander limited the Reds (77-73) to one run and three hits and accumulated eight strikeouts without a walk over five innings.

“It's another good building block, and got a couple more before the playoffs,” Kershaw said. “So it was a good step overall.”

Kershaw’s fastball velocity, down from his season average in his return last Monday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, was up a tick. He threw 74 pitches and produced 20 swings-and-misses — his sixth-highest total in 20 outings this season. Of those whiffs, 15 were on sliders. His 27% whiff rate was his highest for a start since June 2016. It was his best performance in nearly three months.

“He was Clayton Kershaw,” Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts said. “He was doing his thing. I've had that vantage point for a year, two years now, and it's pretty fun to watch.”

The Dodgers (96-54) crept to within one game of the San Francisco Giants in the NL West standings with the win. The Giants lost at home to the Atlanta Braves 3-0. The Dodgers and Giants are both off Monday.

The offense gave Kershaw (10-7) wiggle room early Sunday with three-run bursts in both the second and third innings against veteran left-hander Wade Miley (12-7). Will Smith opened the scoring with a solo home run. Two batters later, a sizzling Gavin Lux hit a two-run home run.

Corey Seager hit a two-run home run and Lux delivered an RBI single to center field in the third to give the Dodgers a 6-0 lead. Lux finished three for four with three RBIs. He’s 11 for 24 (.458) in eight games since being recalled from triple-A Oklahoma City.

The former top prospect has made all eight starts in left field after playing in the outfield just twice in his professional career — both times in the week before getting called up.

Lux could end up starting games in left field for longer than anticipated because of his production and the team’s needs after center fielder Cody Bellinger was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture in his ribs Saturday. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts expected Bellinger to play Sunday, but he was held out of the lineup.

“We've needed it a ton,” Roberts said of Lux’s recent stretch. “He's been very big for us. I think part of it is his mechanics are dialed in. He's in a good spot mechanically, and, I would argue more importantly, his approach to each pitcher, working with the hitting guys, is very sound and very consistent.”

The Dodgers' Gavin Lux celebrates with teammate Chris Taylor.
The Dodgers' Gavin Lux celebrates with teammate Chris Taylor after hitting a home run in the second inning. (Bryan Woolston / Associated Press)

The Reds scored their only run off Kershaw in the fourth inning on Tyler Stephenson’s RBI groundout. Two innings later, Tony Gonsolin, the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter, took the mound to piggyback Kershaw and served up TJ Friedl’s first career hit — a home run over Betts’ head in right field.

Betts then sprang into action. He knew it was Friedl’s first hit because he remembered seeing that he had made his major league debut Saturday from a graphic on the video board, so he promptly asked the man who caught the ball to throw it to him. The man, a Reds fan, promptly tossed it to Betts, who then threw it to Cincinnati's dugout.

The next inning, Betts took the field with an autographed bat for the fan.

“That’s just first class. It’s incredible,” Friedl said. “For him to do something like that, it’s definitely just world class out of him. I want to go over there and just say thank you in person. Thank you is all I can really say because it means so much.”

The Reds added another run in the eighth inning to cut the margin to three, close enough for Roberts to summon Blake Treinen, his best reliever. Treinen allowed an inherited runner to score before getting out of the inning.

The Dodgers scored twice in the ninth to give closer Kenley Jansen a four-run cushion. He yielded a one-out pinch-hit home run to Joey Votto before shutting the door on the Dodgers’ eighth win in nine games and a promising day for the only guy who’s been in a Dodgers uniform longer than him.

Vaccine mandate not an issue

Roberts said he doesn’t anticipate Major League Baseball’s postseason vaccine mandate for on-field, non-playing personnel to impact the club, though he indicated that not everyone has been vaccinated.

“I know it's not a problem for me, personally, I'm vaxxed,” Roberts said. “We did get the memo. We're going to have some discussions as far as — I don't want to speak specifically to any coaches, right now. But whatever is asked of us, we'll adhere to, we'll take care of it.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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