Clayton Kershaw has not had a good stretch leading up to the start of the new season. The Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander has allowed 14 runs (13 earned) on 17 hits in his last 7 1/3 innings, well below the standard of a multiple Cy Young Award winner.
Yet, Kershaw isn't worried, and neither is his manager. Dave Roberts is giving Kershaw the ball when Los Angeles begins its title defense Thursday afternoon against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Denver.
Kershaw has had rough springs before, namely 2014, and then he won both the NL Cy Young and MVP awards, so a few bad outings in March are not going to shake him up.
"I don't have a choice, so I'm going to be ready," Kershaw said. "I'm excited to get going. I really am. I'm excited to get there and have that adrenaline, those butterflies, and get going again."
Kershaw is the Dodgers' Opening Day starter for the 11th consecutive year, but this one is a little different. After many postseason disappointments and near misses, Los Angeles won its first championship in 32 years by beating Tampa Bay in the World Series. It came in a shortened season, and now the Dodgers are striving to repeat in a full season.
Kershaw was 6-2 with a 2.16 ERA in 2020 and followed that up with a 4-1 postseason. He pitched 5 2/3 innings in Game 5 against the Rays to help Los Angeles take control of the World Series.
The Dodgers will have stiff competition in the NL West from the San Diego Padres, but Colorado isn't expected to be a contender after a tumultuous offseason. The Rockies were on the cusp of being a contender in 2017 and 2018 but have been going downhill since.
They signed perennial Gold Glove third baseman Nolan Arenado to a big deal before 2019, but his relationship with the front office grew icy soon after. He had an opt-out clause he could have used after this season, and Colorado traded him to St. Louis in the offseason in a highly criticized deal by the local media and fan base.
Colorado has other questions as well. The team has apparently decided not to extend the contract of shortstop Trevor Story, which suggests he could be dealt before the trading deadline, and the pitching staff is dealing with injuries.
Kyle Freeland was slated to start the second game of the season but will be out for a few weeks with a left shoulder strain.
And Scott Oberg, one of the best relievers on the team, could be looking at retirement after he was diagnosed with blood clots in his pitching arm. Blood clots have been a recurring condition for him. For now, the Rockies placed him on the 60-day injured list.
"I think it's too early to even consider anything, whatever that looks like," Oberg said Monday. "The main focus right now is just day-to-day health."
German Marquez will make the start on Opening Day for the second straight year. The young right-hander has established himself as the ace of the team. He was 12-5 with a 4.76 ERA in 2019, the last full season, and finished 4-6 with a 3.75 ERA in 2020, when he led the National League with 81.2 innings.
Colorado will also start the season with infielder Brendan Rodgers dealing with a hamstring injury. The Rockies are hoping he can mitigate the loss of Arenado and they don't expect him to miss too much time because of the hamstring.
"There's progression," manager Bud Black said. "He's on a nice path right now."
In nine career starts against the Dodgers, Marquez is 2-1 with a 2.54 ERA, striking out 58 in 56 2/3 innings.
Kershaw has started 43 times in his career against the Rockies, posting a 24-8 record - matching his most wins against any opponent, with a 3.22 ERA. He's 11-5 in hitter-friendly Coors Field.
--Field Level Media