Kershaw was at it again on Tuesday, striking out six in three scoreless relief innings while pitching against the Milwaukee Brewers' first stringers. His strikeout victims included Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Bill Hall and Craig Counsell.
"You can tell that kid's a No. 1 pick," said Ted Simmons, Milwaukee's bench coach.
Kershaw wasn't perfect. He allowed a Mike Rivera double punched just inside the first-base line, walked a batter and was called for a balk.
"He was rough early because he hadn't pitched in a week, but I thought he kept his composure," said Torre. "He never backs off. The kid is special. Keeping him healthy is the most important thing. He has confidence in himself."
What more does he need to be ready to help the Dodgers in Los Angeles?
"I'm not sure what he needs, other than the experience of innings pitched," said Torre. We'll keep an eye on that. That's the determining factor in how quickly he can help us."
The Dodgers have Esteban Loaiza and Chan Ho Park competing for the fifth starter job, the game plan being that between the two, the club buys time until Kershaw is ready. Of course, opposing batters are indicating that Kershaw might be ready now. His Spring ERA is 0.90, the lowest of any Dodger with at least 10 innings. He's allowed one run on seven hits in 10 innings with 13 strikeouts and three walks.
Could Kershaw, like Chamberlain, be used in relief to avoid overuse of his young arm?
"Clayton's got the overpowering fastball and can cross your eyes with the curveball," said Torre. "How we decide to use him depends on what our forecast is for what's best for him. You can draw similarities to [Chamberlain]. At this point, I think his future [role] is pretty open."
Torre said he expected Kershaw to start this season at Double-A Jacksonville, where he ended last year after dominating in Class A. The trick is to give Kershaw enough innings to polish his game while keeping his arm fresh enough to help the big league club at crunch time. After Chamberlain's August promotion to the Yankees, management ordered that he must have one day off for every inning pitched -- the Joba Rules.
Kershaw said nobody's said anything to him other than he'd be on the flight to Los Angeles after this game. He was critical of himself for not adjusting his location on the walk, but took some satisfaction in the strength of the opposition.
"You see guys in their lineup like Fielder and [Ryan] Braun, guys who did so much damage last year, and if I can get those guys out, that's a little confidence booster," said Kershaw. "We'll just have to see how it goes."