LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw, the National League Pitcher of the Month for May, started June by battling through six shutout innings and scoring a run as the Dodgers blanked the Braves, 4-0, on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.
Kershaw allowed three hits, struck out a season-low four, walked one, was called for a balk and hit the opposing pitcher (emergency starter Bud Norris) with a pitch for the first time in his career. But the Dodgers' ace also raised his record to 8-1, lowered his ERA to 1.46 and escaped three innings in which the Braves had runners in scoring position.
"I wasn't great tonight," said Kershaw. "Physically I felt fine, but the ball just wasn't coming out. One of those days where it was a grind. Thankfully, I made it through six."
The 27-pitch sixth inning started with Kershaw hitting Norris near the left shoulder.
"The ball was cutting all over the place. I just didn't have a great feel," said Kershaw. "I would have been mad, too. It doesn't feel good, especially when not expecting it."
Kershaw said the decision to lift him after 96 pitches, and season-low six innings, was manager Dave Roberts'.
"He obviously saw the sixth and it wasn't very good, fatigue or not," said Kershaw. "I'm sure he saw enough. I guess it's something to take solace in, but six innings isn't why we're here, it's not acceptable. I'll take it for tonight but I don't ever want to leave three innings for the bullpen."
"After 25ish pitches in that inning. I felt six was good," said Roberts. "The start prior [six days earlier in New York], 114 pitches, so that was good for him and it was good for our 'pen to step up and give him three innings."
Kershaw scored the first run of the game after his one-out infield single and a two-out walk by Corey Seager in the third inning. Justin Turner singled up the middle, and Kershaw scored from second despite Seager's risky attempt to go from first to third, barely eluding third baseman Adonis Garcia's tag with a headfirst slide before Kershaw touched home.
Norris, subbing for the injured Mike Foltynewicz, allowed one run in five innings but slipped to 1-7, as the Dodgers added three insurance runs against the Braves' bullpen in the eighth on Joc Pederson's RBI bunt single, an A.J. Ellis sacrifice fly and pinch-hitter Yasmani Grandal's RBI single.
"It was a great start," Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Norris."He said I'll give you all the bullets I have. He used them all and then some."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Walking and running:Trayce Thompson, who homered and doubled Friday night, became the first Dodgers player to walk three times and steal three bases in the same game since Roberts in 2004, and the first Dodgers rookie with three steals in a game since Dee Gordon in 2011. Thompson's third swipe came on a double-steal in the eighth inning that put runners at second and third with one out, allowing him to score the third run of the game on Ellis' sac fly. The Dodgers had a season-high five stolen bases.
"The game is continuing to slow down for Trayce," said Roberts. "Whether it's a right-hander or a left-hander, it doesn't matter. The athleticism shows on the bases and out in the field. He's showing a lot of his skills. Every night it seems like he does something to help us win games."
Exceeding expectations : Norris had not started since he was removed from the Braves' rotation with a 8.74 ERA in late April, and he had thrown more than 30 pitches just twice within the past 37 days. But the veteran who seems to thrive in the underdog role managed to minimize damage throughout this 91-pitch effort. He stranded two runners with Adrian Gonzalez's groundout to end third inning and pitched around each of the three walks issued during his final two innings.
"I just wanted to go out there and give it everything I had," Norris said. "Talking to [Snitker and pitching coach Roger McDowell], they said just give us as many pitches as you can and go as deep as you can. That was kind of the focus. I didn't have a lot of added pressure. I just wanted to go out there and pitch." More >
That's a balk: At least first-base umpire Joe West thought so when he called one on Kershaw during a pickoff attempt of Jeff Francoeur in the second inning. Kershaw argued for a moment, while second baseman Chase Utley distracted West. It was Kershaw's third balk of the year, tying a career high, but Francoeur was stranded at third base.
"You can't argue a balk, but I, just, I probably shouldn't talk about it," said Kershaw. "I'll say something I shouldn't."
Missed opportunities : Francoeur had three hits in the four previous at-bats recorded against Kershaw this year before he followed Freddie Freeman's fourth-inning leadoff single with a strikeout. The Braves also put two on with just one out in the sixth inning, but Kershaw escaped again when Freeman flied out to left field and Francoeur produced a sharp grounder that found shortstop Seager's glove.
"We put up some good at-bats," Francoeur said. "That [at-bat in the sixth inning], I just wish it would have found a hole."
YOU'RE SAFE, BUT HE'S OUT Nick Markakis retreated to first base after Dodgers center fielder Pederson made a sliding catch of Garcia's liner in the seventh inning. But to his surprise and seemingly most everybody, third-base umpire Mark Ripperger had ruled that Pederson didn't make the catch. Thus, the Dodgers ended up retiring Markakis with a forceout at second base and Garcia remained at first base.
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW
The Braves were unsuccessful on a challenge they issued when Thompson stole second base in the fourth inning. The safe call was allowed to stand after a two-minute, 47-second review did not conclusively show whether shortstop Chase d'Arnaud tagged Thompson.
West initiated a crew-chief review after Ender Inciarte was thrown out attempting to steal second base in the eighth inning, but that call would also stand after a review that lasted two minutes and 16 seconds.
WHAT'S NEXT Braves: Atlanta will send Matt Wisler to the mound for Sunday's series finale, which is set to begin at 4:10 p.m. ET. Wisler limited the Dodgers to four hits and one unearned run over 6 2/3 innings on April 21. He has produced a 2.80 ERA and limited opponents to a .205 batting average over his past eight starts.
Dodgers: A nagging wrist/thumb injury seems healed as Scott Kazmir, who starts for the Dodgers in Sunday's 1:10 p.m. PT series finale, is 2-0 with a 2.73 ERA in his last four starts. He's never faced the Braves, but he held the potent Cubs to one hit over six scoreless innings in a no-decision his last time out.