Clayton Kershaw flirts with perfection in his vintage form

Clayton Kershaw demonstrated on Wednesday that his arm has some life left in it by pitching seven perfect innings for the Dodgers in Minnesota.

Clayton Kershaw’s first start on his comeback tour was flawless.

In his season debut on Wednesday afternoon in Minnesota, Kershaw struck out all 21 Twins batters he faced in his season debut. He had the Twins flailing at his slider the whole afternoon, striking out 13 batters in seven innings.

All that Gio Urshela hit in the seventh inning looked like hard contact, but Gavin Lux caught it cleanly behind second base and made a good throw for a throw out.

After a season that ended abruptly in 2021, Kershaw delivered a message: he was back to his old self. With his slider, he caused 17 swings and misses, tying for the third-most of any start in his career.

It was only the third time in his 377 starts that he had gone into the seventh inning with a perfect game, and the first since 2015. Before Wednesday, he’d never gone any further.

Then came Dave Roberts’ decision, which will be argued for the rest of Kershaw’s career and Roberts’ tenure as manager of the Dodgers. After seven innings, with Kershaw on 80 pitches, Roberts replaced him with reliever Alex Vesia.

Kershaw’s chance to become the 22nd pitcher in MLB history to throw a perfect game was gone. When Vesia gave up a one-out single to Gary Sanchez in the eighth inning, the combined perfect game was over.

From a baseball sense, the choice is understandable. Clayton Kershaw was sidelined for more than two months last season due to a left elbow ailment before returning to play four games in September and October.

He missed the Dodgers’ postseason run after leaving his last start with forearm pain. During spring training, he only pitched 11 innings. Roberts, who is 34 years old and has pitched in the major leagues for 15 years, didn’t want to strain Kershaw’s arm any further than it could go.

However, it denied the 17,000 people at Target Field and the Dodgers supporters watching at home the opportunity to witness the one accomplishment missing from his Cooperstown-bound CV.

Kershaw pitched his sole career no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies in 2014, missing a perfect game only by a seventh-inning error. He would have joined another great Dodgers left-hander, Sandy Koufax, as the only pitchers to throw a perfect game in franchise history.

Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers seem unconcerned about individual accomplishments.

He appeared unconcerned about it. Kershaw still had a smile on his face as he welcomed his teammates in the dugout following the seventh inning. At this stage in his career, only one thing matters to Kershaw and the Dodgers at this stage in his career, after practically every individual honor he could possibly receive: a second World Series ring.

At the end of the day, those are personal preferences. After the game, Clayton Kershaw told Sportsnet LA, “Those are selfish goals, and we’re trying to win.” “Really, that’s all we’re here for.”

Even though I wanted to, I’d only thrown 75 pitches in a simulated game and hadn’t even gone six innings, let alone seven. Sure, I’d have jumped at the chance. But there’s a chance I’ll have another shot. “Who knows?” you might ask.

The Dodgers’ game in Minnesota on a chilly afternoon isn’t the most important game of the season. Roberts had a strategy for Kershaw, and he kept to it, possibly allowing him to play longer than he had planned. For the Dodgers, having Kershaw around in October is all that matters.

And this Kershaw, pitching like his old self, would be a huge help to a team chasing the World Series. The Twins chased 11 sliders out of the zone for swinging strikes thanks to Kershaw.

Only ten of the 41 passes he threw resulted in a touchdown. His pitches were compelling, and his location was ideal. At the plate, the Twins batters appeared to be lost.

It was exactly as it had been in the past. That worn left arm of his still has some fire in it. Kershaw was as terrific as he’s ever been, even if he didn’t throw a perfect game. Roberts and the Dodgers will take it a year after it appeared Kershaw would never be the same.

Even if it means keeping him safe for when the games are most important.