LOS ANGELES -- Southern League hitters must be thrilled at the news that the Dodgers on Sunday sent Clayton Kershaw and his 0.64 ERA back to Double-A Jacksonville.
Manager Joe Torre said he's never sent down a player after a better Spring Training. So Torre's starting rotation must be pretty amazing if he can't make room for the 20-year-old left-handed phenom.
In 14 innings, Kershaw has 19 strikeouts and only three walks, with eight hits allowed after being added to Major League camp three weeks ago. Opponents are batting .160.
Kershaw will be up soon enough. One reason he's not up now is the presence of Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda, who showed why the Dodgers laid out $35.3 million to sign him by pitching even better than Kershaw on Sunday, if that's possible.
Each pitched four innings. Each struck out six. Kuroda's innings were hitless, Kershaw allowed the only Red Sox hit, a Bobby Kielty single.
Kuroda, after making his Dodger Stadium debut, told reporters he's starting to "get acclimated to the American style" and that he's communicating better with catcher Russell Martin than earlier in the spring.
Martin translated in catching terms.
"He's a polished pitcher and it's up to me to figure out how to get on the same page as him," said Martin. "I'm sure I still have some things to learn about him."
Maybe so. But Martin said one thing he's learned in the past week is that Kuroda's money pitch is a splitter that he rarely showed until last Monday against Kansas City.
"Early in the spring, he was up with a lot of his fastballs, but now I see that when I call the splitter, it helps bring down his other pitches," said Martin. "And his splitter is really good, better than I realized."
Kuroda struck out four consecutive Red Sox at one point and the only baserunner he allowed was on a walk to Dustin Pedroia leading off the game. Kuroda finished the spring with a 4.18 ERA
"This was no time for preparation," said Kuroda, in tune with the baseball calendar. "I pitched as if this was a regular game."
So did Kershaw, probably because he knows no other way. Kershaw conceded he struggled briefly with his command after allowing the eighth-inning single because he wasn't used to pitching out of a stretch.
"That was probably my best outing to this point," said Kershaw, who had pitched only five games above low-level Class A coming into Spring Training. "Obviously, I saw this [Minor League assignment] coming. There's just too many good pitchers up here. Any time you don't make a team you're disappointed. But they said they liked what they saw."
"He's pretty special," said Torre. "We have to keep convincing ourselves to do what's best for the kid. He's just got to get innings pitched."
Torre said the challenge with Kershaw in the season's early months is to give him enough innings to improve while keeping him fresh enough to help the Major League team in the second half of a long season.
Part of the plan is for Kershaw, after making a handful of starts, to spend some time in the bullpen to conserve his arm, a tactic the organization is using with many of their young starters.