The rule about who covers second base on a stolen-base attempt isn’t hard and fast. Generally, you choose the opposite-field defender (second baseman for a right-handed batter, shortstop for a left-handed batter), but scouting and sixth senses might convince you to do the opposite, as the Dodgers did in the fourth inning tonight when Arizona’s Gerardo Parra took off from first base with right-handed hitting Martin Prado at the plate.
Justin Sellers vacated his shortstop position, and Prado pulled a 94-mph Clayton Kershaw fastball right where Sellers’ shadow sat, into left field for a hit-and-run single. Instead of a double play, the Diamondbacks had runners on first and third with none out against Kershaw, who to that point was still unscored upon in 19 innings this season.
The 6-4-3 double play came from the next batter, courtesy of Paul Goldschmidt, but it delivered the first run of the season against Kershaw … and ennervatingly for the Dodgers, the critical piece of a 3-0 Arizona victory.
The Dodgers, who left 10 runners on base tonight for a total of 85 in their first 10 games, had two key opportunities to score on behalf of Kershaw. In the top of the fourth, they loaded the bases against Arizona starter Patrick Corbin on two walks and an infield single by Sellers, before Kershaw himself had a potential RBI single taken away by second baseman Josh Wilson.
Then in the eighth, Matt Kemp singled and went to third on two wild pitches by Diamondbacks reliever David Hernandez, the second of them ball four to Adrian Gonzalez. The red-hot Carl Crawford, lurking on the bench, came up as a pinch-hitter, but he struck out on a pitch in the dirt, and then Andre Ethier grounded out.
Kershaw came to the mound for the bottom of the eighth needing one strikeout for 1,000 in his career, but was forced out of the game after a single, a bunt single and a 3-2 walk to Parra. Kershaw threw 111 pitches, allowing six hits and three walks while striking out nine.
Shawn Tolleson, the high-school contemporary of Kershaw who was called up from Albuquerque to temporarily replace Zack Greinke on the Dodger roster and help a suddenly depleted Dodger bullpen, was chosen ahead of lefty J.P. Howell to pitch to Prado and Goldschmidt, but walked them both to force in the game’s second and third runs. Each was charged to Kershaw, whose ERA rose from 0.39 to 1.16 while he watched from the bench. Howell then came in to strike out left-handed Miguel Montero and retire right-handed Alfredo Marte on a liner to third.
Had the bullpen bailed Kershaw out of that last jam, Kershaw would have tied four other pitchers for the second-longest streak in major-league history of allowing no more than one run, as Jim McLennan of AZ Snakepit noted. Kershaw settled for seven starts in a row.
In their last-gasp ninth inning, Nick Punto hit a one-out single up the middle off J.J. Putz, who then walked Skip Schumaker. But Jerry Hairston Jr. hit into a game-ending double play, the double play that didn’t come soon enough for Kershaw in the fourth.
Even in defeat, Kershaw continues to astonish. His 19-inning scoreless streak to start 2013 is the second longest by a starter in Dodger history and the longest by anyone on the team since Jim Gott’s 19 1/3 innings in 1993. Ridiculously, Kershaw has lost his last four starts against Arizona and is 7-6 lifetime despite an ERA against them of 2.37.
Los Angeles (6-4, a game behind Arizona in the National League West) finished its first 10 games of 2013 with 27 runs.