Clayton Kershaw made his first Cactus League appearance on Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers, and he did not disappoint.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner did not allow a hit in one and 2/3 innings pitched with four strikeouts and two walks. More importantly, there was a noticeable increase in velocity, as his fastball stayed between 91-93MPH during his appearance.
"I felt great. It was awesome," Kershaw said after his start which included 37 total pitches. "I felt like the ball was coming out and breaking the right way. The ball came out and had life at the end. I'm throwing four-seamers, so you want the ball to have life up in the zone and I think it did. Compared to last year too, it was a little bit better. It was a good first step for sure."
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"The life on the ball was there," said Dodgers' catcher Will Smith who caught Kershaw on Friday. "It was coming really good out of his hand. He competed like he always does."
Kershaw did not pitch during spring training in 2019 because of a sore shoulder. He began the season on the inured list and his streak of making eight consecutive Opening Day starts was snapped.
"It's night and day," Kershaw said of how he feels now compared to this time last year. "Everything feels good. To have a full offseason and now have a full spring feeling healthy it can only help and I'm encouraged by that for sure."
His manager agreed.
"I thought he was really good," said Dave Roberts after the game. "First outing, up and down. To see the execution of the fastball, the life to the ball, and the swings you saw against him was all really good. I couldn't be more satisfied with this outing."
Despite a decrease in velocity, and an increase in his earned run average, Kershaw still had a successful 2019 campaign. The 31-year-old left-hander went 16-5 with 189 strikeouts and a 1.043 WHIP. He also allowed a career-high 28 homers.
"I think with Clayton we just can't really appreciate what he was going through the last couple years with his body," said Roberts. "His demeanor this spring has been completely different than year's past."
Unfortunately, Kershaw's successful regular season was overshadowed once again by a disappointing postseason. Kershaw blew a 3-1 Dodgers lead in the eighth inning of the decisive Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS against the eventual champion Washington Nationals.
Kershaw surrendered back-to-back solo shots to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, on consecutive sliders that tied the game. The Dodgers would eventual lose in extra innings on a grand slam home run by former Dodger Howie Kendrick.
Kershaw took blame for the loss afterwards, and took it hard in the days that followed.
"You always remember how it ended," Kershaw said when asked about it again on Friday. "It's no fun and you try and move on as best as you can. Hopefully you win the last game one of these years."
Kershaw is expected to pitch three innings in his next Cactus League start and is still on track to take the mound on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium on March 26.