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The fly ball landed a few hundred feet away, down the left-field line, and Clayton Kershaw was convinced it didn’t sail inside the foul pole at RingCentral Coliseum on Tuesday night.
To him, it was obvious, and he emphatically pleaded his case, initially to no avail as Stephen Piscotty trotted around the bases thinking he had cracked Kershaw, and that maybe the Oakland Athletics, the lone remaining winless team in the American League, had a chance to mount a comeback and beat the Dodgers.
That hope was crushed within moments. The umpiring crew convened and changed the call to a foul ball. The home run was erased, Piscotty grounded out to end the fourth inning, and Kershaw didn’t stop mowing down the Athletics in the Dodgers’ 5-1 win.
Fueled by a nasty slider, Kershaw retired 20 of the final 22 hitters he faced after yielding a run on back-to-back doubles in the first inning. He surrendered the one run and four hits across seven innings. He had eight strikeouts without a walk and threw 91 pitches.
“Clayton Kershaw was Clayton Kershaw tonight,” third baseman Edwin Ríos said.
The Dodgers, playing without injured Cody Bellinger (calf) and Chris Taylor (elbow), tied the score in the second inning when catcher Austin Barnes delivered an RBI double off Athletics right-hander Chris Bassitt. The Dodgers took the lead for good when Max Muncy, after collecting three hits Monday, lined a two-run home run in the third inning.
Two batters later, Ríos smashed a curveball for a homer. Mookie Betts slugged a solo homer, his first of the season, for an insurance run in the ninth. It was the last of the Dodgers’ 11 hits — their fifth double-digit hit output of the season.
Blake Treinen tossed a scoreless eighth inning and Kenley Jansen stranded two runners in the ninth to seal the fifth straight win for the Dodgers (5-1) while the Athletics fell to 0-6 for the first time since the 1916 Philadelphia A’s. They are the first team to start 0-6 since the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves in 2016.
“Our team’s unbelievable,” Kershaw said. “One through 26, our team is just so good. I’m glad I don’t have to face them.”
The Dodgers’ only loss came in Kershaw’s first start opening day. Kershaw returned to the mound Tuesday after he followed a rough exhibition slate with a forgettable season debut against the Colorado Rockies.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pointed to the lack of depth on Kershaw’s slider as the primary reason for his trouble. Pitching in the thin air, Roberts acknowledged, didn’t help.
Kershaw was back at sea level Tuesday. So was his slider’s movement and, as a result, his ability to miss bats.
Kershaw threw 44 sliders and generated 16 whiffs with it. Seven of his eight punchouts came on the pitch. Overall, he induced 21 swing-and-misses, his most in a start in four years.
“It was better, for sure,” Kershaw said. “Getting there.”
Kershaw produced more swing-and-misses (seven) in the first inning than in his entire first outing. His fastball averaged 90.6 mph, a tick below last season, but the slider’s effectiveness rendered the slight difference moot. Kershaw returned to his 2020 form and the Dodgers continued bulldozing inferior opponents.
Bellinger status unclear
Roberts said tests on Bellinger’s calf revealed no structural damage, but the club could still place the center fielder on the injured list.
“There’s still obviously residual soreness,” Roberts said, “so I don’t know what we’re going to do as far as IL, no IL. I think we’re in a decent spot, but even with that, I just don’t know when the return will be.”
Taylor also didn’t play Tuesday after getting his hit by a pitch on his left elbow Monday.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.