MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Even on short rest, Kershaw is right call for Dodgers

Rotation adjustment lines up Greinke for potential Game 5

Even on short rest, Kershaw is right call for Dodgers

ST. LOUIS -- All the Dodgers are asking Clayton Kershaw to do is save their season. As options go, that's about as good as it gets.

"Best pitcher in baseball," Matt Kemp said.

Kershaw is more than just the best pitcher of 2014. He's of the most dominant in decades and has been legitimately compared to Sandy Koufax and others. In short, the Dodgers trust him as much as any team trusts a single player.

  Date   Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   STL 10, LAD 9 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   LAD 3, STL 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   STL 3, LAD 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   STL 3, LAD 2 video

So even with the Dodgers pushed to the brink of elimination after a 3-1 loss to the Cardinals on Monday night, there's hope.

This isn't false hope. This isn't guys saying what they think they're supposed to say. This is a legitimate way back.

The Dodgers were 20-1 in games Kershaw started after June 1. He's the first National League pitcher in history to win four straight ERA titles.

Yes, the Dodgers have problems. Their bats have gone silent. Their bullpen is shaky. On the other hand, they're running Kershaw out to start Game 4 of a best-of-five NL Division Series they trail 2-1.

"Anytime we put Clayton Kershaw on the mound we feel pretty good," manager Don Mattingly said. "That being said, we're in a tough game."

Here's the rub. Kershaw will be starting on short rest -- three days instead of four -- on Tuesday for only the second time in his career. He performed well in that other start, allowing the Braves no earned runs in six innings last year in the postseason.

Postseason pitchers historically haven't performed well on short rest. Since 2004, starters working on short rest in the postseason are 5-5 with a 4.73 ERA in 20 starts. Beginning in the Wild Card season of 1995, the numbers are even worse -- 16-26 with a 6.96 ERA in 67 starts.

When a team uses a starter on short rest vs. a starter with regular rest, it has gone 18-35 since 1995. (Those numbers don't add up because there have been seven games when both pitchers were working on short rest.)

It has been such a bad bet through the years that plenty of managers don't even try it anymore. Between 1995 and 2004, teams used their starters on short rest 53 times. In nine seasons since, they've done it only 14 times.

That said, Mattingly is doing the right thing. He simply has no choice. Kershaw absolutely, positively gives the Dodgers their best chance to win.

If it were May or June, Mattingly wouldn't even consider pitching Kershaw in this situation. But with a season of hope and expectation slipping away, Mattingly is going to run his best out there.

In pitching Kershaw on short rest, Mattingly will then have his No. 2 starter, Zack Greinke, available to start a potential deciding Game 5 on Thursday in Los Angeles. The Dodgers were 10-0 in September in games started by Kershaw and Greinke and 7-8 with anyone else starting.

Mattingly rearranged his rotation before Monday's game by announcing Kershaw would start Game 4 on Tuesday. A day earlier, he'd said veteran right-hander Dan Haren would get the ball.

Mattingly never planned to start Haren, but wanted to wait until Monday to see how Kershaw felt after throwing 117 pitches in Game 1 on Friday.

Now about that performance.

Kershaw was charged with eight earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. In September, he allowed eight earned runs in five starts.

Funny things sometimes happen to reputations in October. Even though Kershaw has been breathtakingly good in the regular season, he has a 5.20 ERA in 10 postseason appearances.

To quiet that kind of noise -- not that Kershaw is even aware of it -- he needs to go out and force a Game 5.

"There's always something to prove," Kershaw said. "This game is very humbling. People don't care about what you've done in the past. It's, `What have you done for me lately?' People turn on you really fast, and I know that. It's too hard to think about all that stuff. Whether you do good or bad, you get too big a head or too down on yourself. You try to stay as even keel as you possibly can and just prepare for the next one."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.