If you look at the box score from Friday night's game, you saw that Clayton Kershaw struck out 12 Rockies in six innings, getting his first win of the season. You would think that it was smooth sailing in the Dodgers' 7-3 win at home.
If you watched the game, you know that he wasn't quite his usual sharp self. And you know what? It was still more than enough to win.
Right now, Kershaw would be the first to tell you that he's still trying to find his groove. Tossing 104 pitches in six innings is a lot for any pitcher, especially someone as accomplished as the three-time Cy Young Award winner.
His biggest issue right now is fastball location. He gave up a laser home run to Troy Tulowitzki in the fourth that cleared the little fence in left. In the fifth, spotted a 4-1 lead, Charlie Blackmon hit a no-doubter to deep right, a two-run shot measured at 380 feet. By the way, Blackmon is a lefty, and a long ball from that side of the plate is especially rare against Kershaw.
I'm certainly not a scout, just a guy who's watched a lot of baseball, and a lot of Kershaw since he was a wee little lad in 2008 with an electric arm, but not the greatest control of it. From what I can tell, he's worrying too much about throwing his fastball by batters instead of locating it better. Both his home runs he gave up on Friday were because of this. He might throw 94 mph, but when it's straight down the middle, good hitters will square it up.
Also, I'm surprised he's not throwing his slider more. To me, that's his best pitch and hardest to drive. Maybe he doesn't feel like he has the best control of it right now, but it sure looks unhittable when he does throw it. His curveball is still very effective in the proper spots, but when he hangs it... then it's Matt Adams in the NLDS all over again. Let's not talk about that.
So yes, I just typed quite a bit of words dissecting what's wrong with a guy who gave up one earned run in six innings while striking out a dozen. Of course I know he'll get going as the season progresses, as that was only his third start of this young season. He might be the most stubborn guy in baseball, which is good in a lot of ways, but not when he's just trying to throw the heater by everyone too much. A little better location, a few more sliders, and he'll reach the 100+ pitch count in the eighth or ninth, not the sixth.
And if he gets support like he did from Adrian Gonzalez (3-for-4, two doubles, two RBIs), Howie Kendrick (2-for-4, two-run homer, RBI double), and the bullpen (Paco Rodriguez, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Liberatore all a scoreless inning apiece), then Kershaw won't need to be flawless, he just needs to be good enough.