Clayton Kershaw is defying age to be the most dependable Dodger

Before he walked out of the locker room in a pair of once-white sneakers colored by his two oldest children, Clayton Kershaw imagined how he would feel when he woke up on Wednesday morning.

“I mean, I don’t feel like pitching tomorrow, for sure,” Kershaw said with a smile.

Kershaw is now 35 years old. He doesn’t recover the way he did when he broke into the major leagues, which, as Freddie Freeman pointed out, was a long time ago.

“He’s been doing that for the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2008,” Freeman said.


That was seven shutout innings in a 2-0 road win over the Angels on Tuesday night.

That was delivering just the fifth victory in 15 games for the Dodgers, who have an injury-ravaged rotation and meltdown-prone bullpen.

“I just don’t see a better competitor out there than Clayton Kershaw,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

Roberts specifically pointed to the seventh inning, during which the Angels had runners on second and third base with no outs.

What unfolded was a sequence that has played out countless times during Kershaw’s 16-year career. How Kershaw escaped the pinch was an example of what separates him from just about every other pitcher of his generation.

Following a leadoff single by Brandon Drury and a double by Hunter Renfroe, he forced Kevin Padlo to ground out to short. With runners still on second and third, he struck out Chad Wallach on a full-count slider. He walked Luis Rengifo to load the bases but forced Andrew Velazquez to ground out to short.

The inning was over and the game remained scoreless.

“He just really bears down,” catcher Will Smith said. “He competes, just never gives in.”

Kershaw shrugged.

“I mean, what’s the alternative?” Kershaw said. “I think the alternative is to give in.”

He continued, “Obviously, you gotta reset a little bit. But at the end of the day, I always think about the next pitch. That’s always what I try to do. Just try to make the next pitch. There’s nothing you can do about the last one. Just keep making the next pitch until they take you out. It is harder to do sometimes than others, but, yeah, just try to breathe and think about the next pitch.”

Said Freeman: “I feel like he’s been able to do ‘next pitch’ for 15 years.”

The approach has produced 206 career regular-season victories.

He should earn his 10th All-Star Game bid this year, as he’s 9-4 with a 2.72 earned-run average.

Now eight years removed from his most recent 30-start season, Kershaw is the only Dodgers pitcher to take each of his turns in the rotation this year.

Of the four other pitchers on the opening-day roster, three are on the injured list — Julio Urías, Noah Syndergaard and Dustin May. The other, Michael Grove, was previously on the injured list and is currently in the minor leagues.

“Right now,” Roberts said, “he’s the only one standing from opening day.”

Who would have guessed?

Even Roberts acknowledged he was surprised by how reliant the Dodgers have been on Kershaw this year.

“But with that, Clayton has kind of been the stopper in each of his starts,” Roberts said.

Kershaw said he understands the responsibility he shoulders as the rotation’s elder statesman but that it doesn’t affect how he tries to navigate his way through games.

“It’s our job to get out there every single time and pitch deep into the game,” he said. “Now, with the young guys that we have on our staff — who’ve actually looked really good and pitched really well for us — but overall you would think the younger guys would have a lower pitch count, not go as far, so I do understand that.”

Health-wise, Kershaw said this is the best he’s felt in years.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw looks down and tightens down cap after Angels second baseman Brandon Drury hit a single

Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw adjusted his cap after Angels second baseman Brandon Drury hit a single during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium on Tuesday.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“I don’t really feel bad this year,” he said. “Maybe in the last couple of years, it’s been worse, but this year, I actually feel pretty good bouncing back and been doing my best to try to figure out how to mange workload and things like that. So maybe not throwing quite as long a bullpen or different things. But overall this year I feel like I’m bouncing back better than maybe the last few years.”

Considering how Kershaw was feeling, was he ready to announce he would be returning next year?

Kershaw chuckled.

“Not quite yet,” he said.