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    Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw embraces latest postseason challenge without ‘fear of failure’
    • October 7, 2023

    LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw and postseason baseball have had a rocky relationship.

    The early years were filled with disappointments and even tears, overshadowing many of the good times. But they have come to an accommodation in recent years and here they are again, dancing together once more.

    Game 1 of this National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks will be Kershaw’s 39th postseason appearance and 32nd start – “I’ve basically pitched a full season now in the postseason,” he said Friday.

    The three-time Cy Young Award winner seems able to look back on those disappointing years when his regular-season achievements were blunted by October failures with acquired wisdom now.

    “I kind of said this today a little bit with the guys, but I think the one thing that has switched for me a little bit is you use those nerves (pitching in the postseason) – but where are the nerves coming from?” Kershaw said. “I think at times maybe in the past I had a fear of failure and didn’t want to go out there and fail. I think now it’s just a lot more positive.

    “The nerves are from an excitement to get to pitch in the playoffs, to get to be a part of it, to be in this moment that a lot of people in the game don’t get to be in. I think that’s where the nerves come from now. And I think that’s a better place.”

    Kershaw said he has become more “grateful” for the opportunity to pitch in the postseason even though “not all has been positive, obviously – but I wouldn’t change it.”

    “I’d much rather fail on the biggest stages than not to get to be here at all,” he said. “It’s a special thing to get to be in the postseason.”

    Kershaw said he can’t point to a specific point when that change occurred – was it after winning the World Series title in 2020? Missing the postseason entirely due to an arm injury in 2021? Or just the realization that he is very close to the end of his career?

    “I don’t know,” he said. “I think when you get beat down enough you start saying, ‘Screw it.’ And I think that’s kind of what happened over the years. … I think you can’t hold it too tight. You’ve just got to go out there and play and pitch.”

    It was a more introspective Kershaw than has been seen in previous playoff interview rooms. An 88-mph fastball can do that to pitchers.

    “This year was a little bit up in the air for a minute,” he said, referring to the shoulder injury that landed him on the injured list for six weeks at midseason and robbed him of velocity. “So it makes you all the more grateful to be here.”

    That unspecified shoulder injury has forced Kershaw to re-assess how he goes about things.

    “I don’t know what it’s like to be a superstar, Hall of Famer, so I was much easier to convince to adapt to survive,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts joked.

    “It’s one of those things where you’ve done something for so long, and the fear of – ‘Why would I deviate for potential failure?’ But I think that the game, the hitters have shown him that to change – adapt, in his words – is not a bad thing, it’s a necessity. And the great thing is that he’s seen good results.”

    In his final three regular-season starts – since his fastball averaged 90 mph for the final time during his Sept. 5 start in Miami – Kershaw allowed two runs on nine hits over 14⅓ innings while striking out 14.

    But he has done it while pitching more than five innings just once since July, getting at least five days off before each start since returning from the IL and adapting his pitch mix along the way to the new realities of life with a compromised shoulder and diminished velocity.

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    “I think I stopped chasing some things and just started embracing what I had and started learning how to pitch like that,” Kershaw said of his improvements down the stretch. “I’m getting a little bit better at it each time.”

    Whatever Kershaw has to work with when he takes the mound Saturday is good enough for his teammates, Freddie Freeman said.

    “When No. 22 is on the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers you feel good about it,” Freeman said. “He might not be throwing 95 (mph), like I used to face him 15 years ago, but he knows how to pitch and he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer for a reason.

    “I mean, I think he’s the first one to tell you he hasn’t been feeling 100 percent and he goes out there and gives you everything he’s got. The velocity is 88, 89 right now. And with that slider – it’s still Clayton Kershaw. … What he’s been able to do the last couple of months, the way he’s felt, it’s inspiring. There’s a reason Hall of Famers are Hall of Famers. And this is another chapter to Clayton Kershaw that just solidifies all the things that he’s ever been about.”

    ​ Orange County Register