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Dodgers' Kershaw shows guile in jam

Dodgers' Kershaw shows guile in jam

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The magnificent journey of Los Angeles pitcher Clayton Kershaw nearly hit a snag on Thursday afternoon, but the prized prospect worked his way out of trouble.

Kershaw, making a longshot bid to make the 25-man Opening Day roster, worked a pair of scoreless innings in the Dodgers' 7-6 loss to Houston at Osceola County Stadium.

The fifth inning looked like trouble from the start. Shortstop Miguel Tejada drilled a double to left-center. After getting a popout by Geoff Blum and walking Mark Loretta, Kershaw induced a grounder to second baseman Luis Maza, who appeared positioned for a double play before the ball bounced off his glove for the club's fourth error.

With the bases full, catcher Humberto Quintero hit a liner that was snagged by third baseman Blake DeWitt, who tagged out Loretta for an unassisted double play.

"He's coming out and showing us what he's got," said Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt of Kershaw. "He felt like he was rushing a little bit that first inning. He came in and said, 'I'm just rushing.' He settled down and got a lot smoother."

Kershaw got a flyout and come-backer to open the sixth, then walked pinch-hitter Reggie Abercrombie after embarrassing the former Florida Marlin with a curveball in the dirt that had the outfielder flailing.

"His curveball wasn't as sharp as it has been and where it needed to be," said Honeycutt. "He couldn't put away [Abercrombie] when he needed to."

Abercrombie was then tossed out on an attempted steal of second base after Kershaw threw to first base on a pickoff.

"He threw over on his own and made the pickoff. He has a nice feel of the game," Honeycutt added.

Kershaw made his first Major League appearance in a split-squad game on March 4 against Washington. The Dodgers told Kershaw the day before that he would be appearing in the game versus the Nationals -- a big jump for a pitcher who finished his 2007 campaign with Double-A Jacksonsville after spending most of the season with Class A Great Lakes.

He allowed a homer to Washington's Luis Antonio Jimenez in his one inning of work in that initial appearance but struck out the side, saying the butterflies finally subsided. He hit 97 mph on one scout's radar gun eight times.

Honeycutt said calming his young pitcher -- Kershaw turns 20 next Wednesday -- is a task that he expects to do. "He's got great talent and great stuff. Obviously, just being in this environment, his nerves might not always be settled," the pitching coach said.

Kershaw followed the Washington outing with a perfect inning of work on Sunday against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox. Honeycutt said that even though the southpaw can run into trouble, he has the ability with a good fastball and a sharp breaking ball to get out of a jam.

"Some days just aren't always going to be smooth, like the first outing, and then boom, he's got the kind of talent to where he gets tougher and makes big pitches," Honeycutt said.

Kershaw is pitching on a five-day schedule and will continue to follow Hiroki Kuroda in the pitching order. He has currently pitched four innings in the Grapefruit League, allowing just one run -- a 2.25 ERA. He has allowed four hits, struck out four and walked two.

Bill Whitehead is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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