LOS ANGELES -- When Joe Torre was trying to manage expectations for phenom Clayton Kershaw early this spring, Russell Martin wasn't buying it.
Martin caught Kershaw one time and immediately deemed him ready to join the big league rotation. What Martin saw has already become part of Kershawmania legend: The left-hander allowed a home run to the first batter he faced (Luis Jimenez). Half-smiling as he received a new ball from the umpire, he worked into a bases-loaded jam, escaped with two strikeouts, then didn't allow another run all spring.
The poker player in Martin summed up the way he felt about Kershaw.
"From that game," Martin said, "I was all in."
Almost two months later, after strategically rationing Kershaw's innings in anticipation of a long season, Dodgers management on Saturday joined Martin on the bandwagon, promoting the now-20-year-old Kershaw from Double-A Jacksonville so he can make his Major League debut in a Sunday start against the Cardinals.
"He's a confident young man without being gaudy or showy," said Torre.
Kershaw got the word late Friday night, one day after admittedly becoming frustrated when yanked after a one-inning start that turned out to be the equivalent of a bullpen session. He flew from North Carolina, through Detroit, to Los Angeles and was in uniform Saturday, ready to describe his latest and greatest adventure.
"It's a dream come true, and I've been beside myself," said the 2006 first-round pick. "Anytime you hear those words -- you're leaving for L.A. -- that's what you dream about and work so hard for. It's awesome. Now, I've got to prove myself here."
Indeed, no young pitcher has arrived on the Dodgers scene with this much hype since Ramon Martinez debuted with 7 2/3 innings against the Giants Aug. 9, 1988, a pretty good year in Dodgers history.
"Expectations are great," said Kershaw. "It just means somebody thinks highly of you. I put enough pressure on myself, I don't worry about what other people think or say or talk about.
Kershaw said he was glad to get a day at the ballpark under his belt before taking the mound, and he was equally appreciative having already pitched at Dodger Stadium. That was March 30 in the exhibition finale against Boston, when he allowed one hit over four scoreless innings with six strikeouts.
"I'm always nervous when I pitch," Kershaw said. "I always get butterflies. I'm sure it will be that way tomorrow."
Is he nervous about facing hitters such as Albert Pujols?
"He's another hitter," he said. "You make a mistake, you'll pay. Make good pitches and see how it goes."
What can fans expect from Kershaw? Here's Martin's scouting report:
"He's got just a heavy, heavy fastball and an easy delivery. He's very deceptive. His curveball, it just drops off the table. I think it's the best curveball I've ever caught, to be honest. He keeps the ball down. You can see he's a tremendous competitor, giving up a home run to the first batter, getting into a bases-loaded jam and bearing down to strike out two guys to get out of it.
"It's just how easy he throws. He's mechanically sound. I don't think he needs to learn anything mechanically. He doesn't look scared, he's not tentative in any way. I could tell that first game by the reaction of hitters, how their knees buckle with his curve, how they don't get extension or good wood on the ball."
Torre said Kershaw will not be on a strict pitch count and indicated this would not be a one-time start but that he would likely remain in the rotation as long as results justified it.