Sunday, April 3, 2016

Kershaw has goals yet to conquer this season "Clayton, I want to talk to you about your changeup."
Clayton Kershaw"I don't have a changeup." "That's what I want to talk about."
In the eyes of many, he's the best pitcher in baseball. In Dodger Nation, he's the best since Hall of Fame icon Sandy Koufax.
An MVP, three Cy Youngs, five All-Star honors, a Gold Glove, a Roberto Clemente Award for his charitable endeavors. He married his high school sweetheart and he's the proud father of little Cali.
On Monday at 4:05 p.m. PT in San Diego, he will start his sixth consecutive Opening Day for the Dodgers, the most since Hall of Famer Don Sutton's seven straight. He will go into that game with a darting 94-mph fastball, an off-the-table curve and a wicked, diving slider.
And a changeup he still hasn't mastered.
Whether it's bunting, pickoff moves or pingpong, Kershaw has always been able to conquer imperfections through determination and practice. Except the changeup.
"It's his white whale," said catcher and Kershaw buddy A.J. Ellis.
Kershaw said developing the changeup has never been an obsession, but he hasn't thrown in the towel, either.
"It's fourth on the depth chart, for sure," Kershaw said. "I still work on it, play catch with it every day. I mess around with it more than any pitch, changing grips. It just doesn't come natural to me. I learned the slider out of desperation. I don't think I've reached the desperation level with that. Maybe there is something mental to it, if you really need to throw it, you throw it. That's probably where I'm at."
Former Dodger and Cy Young winner Eric Gagne, who possessed a changeup that made hitters look silly, just spent his first spring as a Dodgers pitching instructor and said that Kershaw's drive to improve was in evidence by a question Kershaw asked.
"I met him when he signed in 2006, and when he was a rookie we played golf in Spring Training," recalled Gagne. "He doesn't talk a lot, but he learns a lot. Even this year, he came up to me and asked how I threw my changeup. He's never satisfied with whatever his numbers are. He just wants to get better. That's the difference between a good pitcher and one-of-a-kind.
"I just told him to throw it as hard as he can in arm speed. It has to look like the fastball. He's capable of taking anything to the next level. We played catch the other day, he threw a cutter I didn't even know he had. He's not going to throw 97 pmph] the rest of his life. I think he's getting ready for that, for being able to dominate for many years. And he's still himself. He's cool to watch."
Kershaw said don't expect a sudden breakthrough off the Gagne Q&A.
"He had one of the best changeups ever," said Kershaw. "But I'm always asking guys. Zack [Greinke] dominated the league with his changeup, and for three years I asked him every other day how he did it. He'd show me, but at the end of the day, it doesn't really compute.
"It's a different throw than everything else I throw. My ball has a little natural cut and making it go the other way, turning it over, is very different altogether. Just the way I throw, I guess."
Changeup or not, Kershaw at age 28 is the most important Dodger since Koufax. He provides an emotional boost to his team -- and puts an emotional damper on opponents -- that doesn't show up in analytics.
"There's definitely a buzz in the clubhouse the day Clayton is pitching," said Ellis. "Everyone feels we'll be shaking hands in the infield with a W at the end of the game."
Kershaw chooses his words carefully when asked if his current club is good enough for October celebrations.
"If everybody plays up to their capabilities, we'll have a really good team," he said. "I don't know if there's a lot of margin for error for us other than that. Last year you saw what injuries did to us. We just have to do what we're supposed to do. I know that sounds pretty vague, but if we play the way our team was put together we'll be all right."
With Greinke no longer in the rotation, however, one thing even more elusive to Kershaw than the changeup -- that World Series ring -- remains the true white whale.
"Maybe I'll look at the individual stuff 10 years down the road," he said. "But that's not why I play the game. Watching guys win the World Series looks like a lot of fun. I'd kind of like to do that."

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