MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Kershaw's consistency awe-inspiring for teammates

'He expects perfection,' Kazmir says of Dodgers' ace

Kershaw's consistency awe-inspiring for teammates

PHOENIX -- If you'd like to understand what Clayton Kershaw means to the Los Angeles Dodgers, you can start with the area behind the bullpen mound in left field.

That's where Dodgers pitchers gathered prior to Saturday's 5-3 win over the White Sox to line up and watch their ace warm up for his first start of Spring Training. This is what respect looks like. There's surely some awe as well.

As teammate Rich Hill said, "You can learn plenty from watching how he does things. Everything has a purpose."

On this day, Kershaw threw 12 pitches in an inning of work against the Chicago White Sox, then returned to the bullpen for another 17. Finally, he did his usual 30-minute postgame routine.

When he was finished, he fretted about his fastball command and the one changeup he threw.

"It was terrible," he said. "That's what I got mad about."

And this is why he's different. He has the best pure stuff in the game, three above-average pitches, including a 93 mph fastball, a hard (88 mph) slider and a curveball Vin Scully nicknamed "Public Enemy No. 1."

What also separates him from others is a curious mind, an obsessive work ethic and a relentless attention to detail. So when you're fortunate to watch him pitch, know this: He's not just the best pitcher of his generation, he's on a career path that could make him one of the best ever -- 54.6 Wins Above Replacement, 2.37 ERA, 1.007 WHIP.

"I don't really think about it," he said. "I think it's important to worry about the season that you have. When it's all said and done, you can look back and enjoy it. That's what retirement's for."

Kershaw's LA Opening Day history

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said that one of the many bonuses of having Kerhsaw on your baseball team is that every pitcher in the organization can learn from him.

"I love having our young guys around him in Spring Training to just observe," Friedman said. "I think it's the consistency. He's unwavering in his preparation, and seeing the success he has and the consistency year over year is not surprising when you see how he works, how he prepares, how he competes."

Kershaw missed two months with a back injury in 2016, but when he was on the mound he was as good as ever: 21 starts, 1.69 ERA, 0.725 WHIP.

Kershaw healthy, ready for 2017

He returned in September to make five starts (1.29 ERA) and then four more (and one relief appearance) in the postseason. That relief appearance was Kershaw, working on one day of rest, getting the final two outs of an NLDS-clinching Game 5 against the Nationals.

"Every year is different," he said. "I never want to take for granted [that] it'll be there when the season starts. When something doesn't work in spring, I'm going to stress out about it and worry about it until I fix it. I'm not just going to say, `I'll figure it out at some point.'

"Even though that might be the case, I feel I have to harp on it and stress on it until I get it to where I want it to be. Sometimes, it doesn't happen in spring. Most of the time, I feel pretty good coming out of it and feel I'm on the right track.

"Right now, we've got a great team here. We've got a lot of talented players, a lot of depth. We've got everything we could possibly need to win. That's what I'm focused on."

The Dodgers are favored to win a fifth straight National League West Championship. Their rotation has eight pitchers competing for five spots. But everything revolves around Kershaw.

"There are a lot of things the rest of us could pick up by watching him," teammate Scott Kazmir said. "It's his consistency. I've never seen anyone work out as much as he does. To be able to have that energy every single day is impressive. You almost want to follow him around all day to figure out how he's able to maintain it. He expects perfection."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.