Carved. Sliced. Diced. Slashed. Controlled. Mastered. Dominated. Dismantled.
You can use any verb you would like to describe what Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw did to the Pirates in a 1-0 L.A. victory Saturday night. But one works best.
He Kershawed them.
“That was the same as I remember him,” Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. “That guy has been good as anybody over the last four years.”
The back-to-back National League ERA champion fired jittery fastballs and dive-bombing sliders past hitters for 17 swings-and-misses on his way to nine strikeouts and just one walk. Over Kershaw’s seven masterful innings to blank the Pirates for a second straight night, Starling Marte was the only Pittsburgh hitter that did not get chiseled down into a sculpture of Kershaw’s greatness to be appreciated by 39,446 onlookers. Marte recorded two singles to become the first Pittsburgh player to record a multi-hit game this season.
Pirates’ starter A.J. Burnett was impressive as well, but fell to 0-2 for the sin of not pitching at the same search-and-destroy level of the former Cy Young Award winner. Burnett matched Kershaw with nine strikeouts, but long at-bats, four hits and four walks led to his removal in the sixth inning. His adrenaline showed with 96 mph fastballs early on, coupled with sharp breaking balls that even got Matt Kemp to strike out three times.
“It’s just unfortunate we weren’t able to push across one or two for A.J., because he pitched so well tonight,” Walker said.
The Lone Dodgers Run
The only mark on Burnett’s performance came in the 3rd inning. Carl Crawford hit a two-out single that one-hopped Clint Barmes. He swiped second base for his second steal of the night, then was driven in by Mark Ellis punching a seeing-eye single between the dives of Barmes and Pedro Alvarez.
“[Crawford] ran on a curveball. He picked a good pitch to run on,” Burnett said. “Crawford’s a bag stealer… the pitch to Ellis wasn’t where I wanted it. He drove in a run.”
One misplaced two-seam fastball was all the difference Saturday night, and that might be a common statement as Burnett is matched up again and again with opposing teams’ top starters.
“That’s a pitchers’ duel right there, man,” Burnett said. “I want to go up against every ace. That’s what I’m here for.”
The Dodgers almost added another run when they loaded the bases in the 6th. Adrian Gonzalez singled to left, and Burnett walked Andre Ethier as his last batter. Reliever Jared Hughes then gave up a single to A.J. Ellis, but it was hit hard enough at Marte to keep Gonzalez at third. Hughes got the next two hitters to pop out to Barmes and ground out to Alvarez to hold the Dodgers to a one-run lead. L.A. ended up with eight hits on the evening.
Before we address the Pirates’ hitting, as we must, kudos must be bestowed on the team’s pitching and fielding. The Bucs have allowed the second-fewest runs (8), hits (26) and third-fewest walks (11) in baseball. Trouble is, the Dodgers are first in all those categories, in part because they have faced the Pirates’ batters.
Hitting Troubles Mount
The Pirates heard a lot of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 at Dodger Stadium, the unmistakable “DUN DUN DUN DUUUUUN” accompanying the season-high 11 strikeouts of Pittsburgh hitters as the team dropped to a 1-4 record on the season. Alvarez heard it three times, Barmes and Jose Tabata twice. And they were in no position to be in scoring position. Marte started the game with a single and was bunted to second. He then made a “bad baseball decision,” as manager Clint Hurdle put it, being thrown out at third on a grounder to the left side.
After that, no Pirates baserunner got past first base.
Kershaw’s steady outing was closed out by Paco Rodriguez, Kenley Jansen and Brandon League combining to pitch two scoreless innings, with only Neil Walker reaching base on a walk. The Bucs are still without a run over 18 innings at Dodger Stadium and have only gotten one baserunner into scoring position.
“We’re not finding hits,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We haven’t scored in two nights, so there’s no way you’re gonna win a game. It’s pretty simple.”
Let’s rack up the stats of ineptitude for the Pirates offense.
- A total of 19 MLB teams have more hits than the Pirates have runs. (Thank you, Dave Cameron.)
- Against pitchers not named Carlos Marmol, Pittsburgh is hitting .094, with only three runs in 42.2 innings (0.63 ERA for opposing pitchers). Without Marmol, the Pirates would have been shut out in four of their five games.
- The team’s .330 OPS is worse than pitcher James McDonald’s .406 OPS at the plate last year.
- Double the number of hits the Pirates have collected. They would still be 24th in baseball.
- And they remain the only team in baseball without a home run.
It all adds up to a mere six runs for the Pirates in five games, against pitchers good (Jeff Samardzija, Zack Greinke) to average (Travis Wood) to Kershawian.