Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw’s remarkable renaissance campaign continued on Thursday with a masterful performance against the division-rival Diamondbacks. The 32-year-old veteran southpaw carried a no-hit bid into the sixth inning, before relenting a two-out single to Christian Walker, and yielded only three base runners over six scoreless frames. On a night in which he recorded the 2,500th strikeout of his illustrious career and became the third-youngest pitcher in major-league history to reach that milestone; Kershaw continued to look like a rejuvenated hurler who managed to discover the proverbial Fountain of Youth. He generated a whopping 14 swinging strikes, recorded eight strikeouts and only issued a pair of walks. With the victory, Kershaw improved to 5-1 overall with a microscopic 1.50 ERA, 0.72 WHIP and 41/6 K/BB ratio across 36 innings (six starts) this season.
If there’s a glaring takeaway from the longevity of 40-year-old veteran slugger Nelson Cruz -- who's currently tied for the major-league lead with 13 round-trippers this season -- it’s that age is merely a number in the modern game. Yet, Kershaw had shown very few signs that a reversion to the halcyon Cy Young-caliber days was on the horizon, especially after he experienced four straight seasons of declining fastball velocity and recorded the worst numbers of his career from a run prevention standpoint (3.03 ERA across 178 1/3 innings last year) since his rookie campaign back in 2008. “Once a pitcher experiences prolonged velocity loss, it doesn’t usually come back,” wrote MLB.com’s David Adler in an article detailing Kershaw’s late-career resurgence last month. Yet, Kershaw has somehow managed to shrug off years of steady decline, gaining nearly one and a half miles per hour in terms of average velocity this season.
That significant velocity uptick, both in terms of average and max velocity, has served as the primary catalyst fueling his late-career rebirth. It’s a development which fantasy managers couldn’t have possibly forecasted, but Kershaw reportedly spent the offseason training and working on his craft from a cutting-edge, data-driven perspective at the Driveline Baseball facility in Seattle, Washington. “I’m not confirming or denying anything, but I will say that what Driveline does is not necessarily just a weighted-ball program,” Kershaw told Pedro Moura of The Athletic back in February. “They’re smart in how the body works, and how to create the most efficiency with your body, and how to create the most power with your body. They have ways to apply that. I think you can glean different things from different usages of it. Some guys are going in there maybe because there’s more in there and they’re trying to figure it out. Some guys maybe lost it.” It's an oversimplification to suggest that merely visiting Driveline is a cure-all for any pitcher, but it appears that Kershaw's investment managed to unlock something mechanically that has been extremely beneficial this year.
The future Hall of Famer didn’t evolve into arguably the most dominant pitcher of his generation solely on the basis of overpowering raw stuff. He certainly threw harder at the outset of his career, and always boasted a legendary curveball, but it was his preternatural ability to effortlessly pound the strike zone, thanks to exceptional command of his three-pitch repertoire, which served as the main catalyst behind his sustained excellence in Los Angeles. He’s retained that savvy approach, but now the stuff is trending back up as well. Kershaw’s rejuvenated four-seam fastball has exponentially increased the effectiveness of his fastball/slider combo. Merely increasing the velocity gap between the two offerings helps keep opposing hitters off balance and makes it much more difficult to square up either offering. In previous years, Kershaw’s diminished velocity resulted in both offerings, which look extremely similar leaving his hand, much easier to barrel because they were roughly the same speed and ended up in similar locations. Simply put, Kershaw’s rejuvenation gives him the ability to change locations and vary speeds between a wider range of velocities on both his four-seam fastball and slider. The velocity provides even more options to attack his opponents. For example, Kershaw threw 21 sliders against the Diamondbacks, ranging from 82 mph to 89 mph, while also mixing in 48 fastballs, which varied from 89.1 mph to 92.6 mph.
Kershaw has allowed one run or fewer in five of his six starts and grades out as one of the senior circuit’s most dominant pitchers from both a traditional and advanced metric perspective this season. Per Baseball Prospectus’ Deserved Run Average (DRA) metric, which uses a mixed-model approach to present a number on the runs-allowed-per-nine-innings scale that more accurately described the pitcher’s effect on run prevention, Kershaw’s 3.09 DRA ranks 14th out of 138 pitchers with at least 20 innings of work. If he can sustain the increased fastball velocity, Kershaw should be able to sustain this level of performance over the final month of the abbreviated 2020 campaign. He’s lined up for a rematch against the Diamondbacks on Wednesday at Chase Field.
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Heaney Outshines Clevinger In Padres Debut
With newly-acquired righty Mike Clevinger, the highest-profile starting pitcher jettisoned at the trade deadline earlier this week, garnering all of the headlines in his highly-anticipated Padres’ debut; it was Angels lefty Andrew Heaney who ended up stealing the spotlight in the interleague affair on Thursday evening. The 29-year-old southpaw locked horns with Clevinger in a throwback pitcher’s duel, scattered three hits and a pair of walks over seven scoreless innings. He threw a career-high 117 pitches, which included an absurd 78 four-seam fastballs and 27 foul balls in this one. He generated 15 swinging strikes and six strikeouts over seven flawless frames against a blistering-hot San Diego lineup. Despite lacking an above-average putaway offering, Heaney boasts a solid strikeout rate (9.61 K/9) and decent control (3.07 BB/9), yet persistent nagging injuries have prevented him from reaching his lofty potential over the last few years. He’s only eclipsed the 120-inning plateau once since 2014. The omnipresent workload concerns have enabled Heaney to fly under the radar as a solid mixed-league fantasy option on a per-start basis. He’ll carry a 3.89 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 47/15 K/BB ratio across 44 innings (eight starts) into a road tilt against a floundering Rangers’ lineup on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Clevinger, who was originally drafted by Los Angeles in the fourth round of the 2011 MLB Draft, yielded two runs over six innings in a solid performance, which featured his trademark five-pitch mix and plenty of weak contact. The hard-throwing 29-year-old righty surrendered seven hits, but managed to avoid any significant damage as RBI singles by Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton in the third and fourth innings, respectively, accounted for all of the damage against him in this one. Given fantasy managers stratospheric expectations, the fact that Clevinger generated a paltry nine swinging strikes and finished with only two strikeouts -- matching the lowest single-start total of his big-league career -- makes his senior circuit debut feel rather underwhelming. Given his elite track record and presence of pitch-framing wizard Austin Nola behind the plate, better days are certainly ahead for Clevinger over the remainder of the year. He’ll carry a pristine 3.14 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 23/12 K/BB ratio across 28 2/3 innings into a home outing against the free-falling Rockies at Petco Park on Tuesday.
American League Quick Hits: Martin Perez carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and yielded one run over 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision against the Blue Jays … Teoscar Hernandez crushed a go-ahead three-run homer in the 10th inning to propel the Blue Jays past the Red Sox … Luis Robert, Tim Anderson and Edwin Encarnacion homered in the White Sox’ blowout victory over the Royals … Hunter Dozier launched his fifth round-tripper of the season in the loss … Zack Greinke recorded a season-high nine strikeouts over six innings of three-run ball in the Astros’ win over the Rangers … Lance Lynn was shelled for six runs over six innings and saddled with a loss in that contest … Michael Brantley went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and three RBI in the victory … Nick Solak went 3-for-4 and scored three times in the losing effort … Jose Altuve underwent an MRI on his right knee Thursday evening after exiting due the contest due to knee discomfort after an awkward slide in the opening frame … Aroldis Chapman coughed up a game-tying solo homer in a blown save against the Mets … The Athletics have been officially cleared to return to action on Friday against the Padres … Athletics general manager David Forst said Thursday that A.J. Puk (shoulder) is on track to join the team early next week … Athletics manager Bob Melvin said Marcus Semien (side discomfort) "swung the bat a little" on Thursday. He’s expected to avoid the injured list, but will not be in the team’s starting lineup on Friday … Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters on Thursday that Giancarlo Stanton (hamstring) is still “a ways away” from returning this season … He also said that he expects Gleyber Torres (quad, hamstring) to come off the injured list this weekend … James Paxton (elbow) played catch on Thursday … Angels placed INF David Fletcher on the 10-day injured list retroactive to August 31 with a left ankle sprain … White Sox optioned RHP Reynaldo Lopez to their alternate training site … Royals recalled OF Edward Olivares from their alternate training site … Mariners claimed OF Phillip Ervin off waivers from the Reds.
National League Quick Hits: J.D. Davis slugged a game-tying solo homer in the ninth inning and Pete Alonso walloped a walk-off two-run homer in the 10th inning to power the Mets to a comeback victory over the Yankees … Edwin Diaz recorded four strikeouts over two hitless innings to pick up a win in that contest … Alec Bohm delivered a game-winning RBI sacrifice fly in the 10th inning to lift the Phillies to a walk-off victory over the Nationals … Trea Turner went 3-for-5 with a two-run inside-the-park home run and three RBI in the loss … Juan Soto reached base safely four times in that contest … Bryan Reynolds crushed a three-run homer to propel the Pirates past the Cubs … Corey Seager went 3-for-4 with a run scored to lead the Dodgers past the Diamondbacks … Cody Bellinger went 0-for-4 in his return to the Dodgers’ starting lineup … Ian Happ was diagnosed with contusion above his right eye after exiting Thursday’s contest against the Pirates … Adam Eaton left Thursday’s game against the Phillies with a jammed knee … Padres activated OF Wil Myers off the injured list and optioned OF Greg Allen to their alternate training site … Brewers acquired 1B Dan Vogelbach from the Blue Jays and designated 1B Justin Smoak for assignment … Rockies claimed RHP Jesus Tinoco off waivers from the Marlins and optioned him to their alternate training site … Cubs released RHP AJ Ramos and RHP Cody Allen … Braves released 1B Matt Adams.