We are witnessing the eighth consecutive season in which Los Angeles Dodgersleft-hander Clayton Kershaw has an ERA below 3.00, and Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis mentioned in conversation Saturday that Kershaw has been so good for so long that you grow accustomed to his excellence. But what Kershaw is doing this season might be a case of the best pitcher of all time doing his best work, particularly in how he controls the ball-strike count.
Kershaw, who is set to start against the Mets and Bartolo Colon on Sunday, has 95 strikeouts and five walks this season and a 19-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is vastly better than Phil Hughes' major league-record 11.6-to-1 ratio for a full season — and more than double Kershaw's career-best of 7.71-to-1.
Ellis said the difference for Kershaw has been the way he has executed strike 1 on the first pitch of at-bats, not just throwing a strike designed to get ahead in the count, but firing a quality strike, a particularly well-placed fastball or slider to the fringes of the zone. Once Kershaw gets strike 1, Ellis said, "The world opens up to him," because at that moment, opposing hitters are at the mercy of his whole repertoire, from a fastball he throws in the low-to-mid 90s, to the slider he is throwing harder than at any point in his career, to the curveball that crashes downward, like a roller coaster.