Dodgers pitch past 1st test of grueling stretch

GLENDALE, ARIZONA – FEBRUARY 20: Pitcher Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers poses for a portrait during MLB media day on February 20, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

CHICAGO — Dodgers manager Dave Roberts sat in his office before Saturday’s doubleheader against the Cubs with multiple binders on top of his desk. Somewhere in there, Roberts had mapped out a pitching schedule that will guide his club through one of the most difficult stretches of its season.

Beginning Saturday, the Dodgers embarked on a grueling stretch of 31 games in 30 days. During that period, Los Angeles will lean on its pitching, a group that has been the team’s backbone in the early part of 2022.

Los Angeles got exactly the start they were looking for, as Clayton KershawTyler Anderson and the bullpen guided them to a sweep of Saturday’s split doubleheader against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“It’s gonna be a big stretch for us this next month or so,” Kershaw said. “I think we maybe have one travel day, but other than that we’re gonna be going. So we’re gonna need our starters to do their jobs for sure.”

In a 7-0 win in Game 1, Kershaw did more than enough. The future Hall of Famer continued his dominant start to the season, striking out two and allowing five hits over seven scoreless innings. Kershaw’s season ERA is 1.80.

“He’s just got a good feel for pitching,” said Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes, who hit his third homer of the season in Game 1. “He knows how to navigate through a lineup pretty well. He feels the game out. What makes him so good, his stuff is obviously really good, but his feel for pitching is really, really good.”

Kershaw, who came into Saturday’s start with a 4.74 career ERA at Wrigley Field, said he didn’t feel like he had his best stuff. He mentioned improving his slider was going to be an emphasis during his in-between bullpen session. Still, Kershaw’s stuff was dominant enough to produce soft contact. The Cubs tried to jump on the left-hander early, as 10 of the at-bats against him ended after one or two pitches.

“I feel good about it,” Kershaw said of his first five starts. “For the most part, the results are there. So I’ll take that for sure.”

For the Dodgers, the results on the mound carried into a 6-2 win in Game 2. Anderson allowed two runs over five innings, giving the Dodgers yet another solid outing. His season ERA is down to 2.78. Anderson then turned it over to Daniel Hudson, Brusdar Graterol and Craig Kimbrel, who shut the door on Chicago.

Through 25 games, the Dodgers’ pitching staff leads the league with a 2.11 ERA. 

“It’s a credit to the guys,” Roberts said. “They throw strikes. They don’t walk many guys. I think our gameplanning is as good as anybody in baseball. … We haven’t swung the bats the way we’re going to, but we’re preventing runs at a good clip.”

With the pitching staff keeping the Cubs’ offense in check, two swings of the bat by Mookie Betts were all the Dodgers needed. Betts hit a bases-clearing double in a four-run second and delivered the knockout punch with a two-run homer in the ninth.

After a slow start, the former MVP has found his swing over the last few weeks, going 12-for-31 (.387) with three homers during his current eight-game hitting streak. Betts went 3-for-9 in Saturday’s doubleheader. He credits improved mechanics and mental health books for his recent success.

“I just listen to books and [get]perspective and that’s why you see me smile and those types of things a lot more,” Betts said. “We don’t play this game long enough to dwell and be sad all the time. It’s just trying to enjoy each at-bat each day, and my goal is to pretty much make history every at-bat.”

The upcoming stretch of games is going to be challenging for the Dodgers. Roberts said they’ll consider using Andre Jackson, Mitch White or No. 6 prospect Ryan Pepiot for occasional spot starts. The Dodgers will also be without top reliever Blake Treinen, who will undergo further tests on his right shoulder.

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