No way to treat your best player

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - DY­LAN HER­NAN­DEZ

Clay­ton Ker­shaw re­mains the Dodgers’ sin­gle most im­por­tant player, his value to the fran­chise con­firmed once again in a 2-1 vic­tory over the Wash­ing­ton Nationals.

With­out him, the Dodgers would have been swept this week at Dodger Sta­dium. And with­out him, they stand no chance of win­ning the World Se­ries in Oc­to­ber.

So why are they an­tag­o­niz­ing him?

The Dodgers shouldn’t be pick­ing fights with their play­ers, much less their ace, but that’s what’s hap­pen­ing here.

They traded A.J. El­lis last sea­son, sep­a­rat­ing Ker­shaw from the catcher of his choice. They are now

look­ing to mod­ify how they use him, ask­ing him to tem­per the in­stincts that have made him the best pitcher on the planet.

Though Ker­shaw has al­ways prided him­self on his in­ning count, he hasn’t com­plained about his re­duced work­load, say­ing he un­der­stood man­age­ment wanted to pre­serve his arm for the post­sea­son. There was only one stip­u­la­tion.

“Now, if there’s a sit­u­a­tion that dic­tates me stay­ing in the game and I come out, I’ll have a prob­lem there,” Ker­shaw said last month in an in­ter­view with Andy McCul­lough of The Times.

But that’s what hap­pened Wed­nes­day, when Ker­shaw was re­moved by man­ager Dave Roberts af­ter de­liv­er­ing only 95 pitches.

The Dodgers’ 2-1 ad­van­tage at the time was al­most en­tirely a prod­uct of Ker­shaw’s de­ter­mi­na­tion. He lim­ited the post­sea­son­bound Nationals to a soli­tary run over the first seven in­nings. He worked a ninepitch at-bat against Stephen Stras­burg to set the stage for a two-run in­ning.

This was Ker­shaw’s game. This was his game to win or lose. Un­til it wasn’t. Ker­shaw had thrown fewer than 100 pitches in six of his pre­vi­ous 12 starts. Wasn’t that in part so he could pitch into the late in­nings of games like this?

The de­ci­sion to re­place him with Pe­dro Baez was up­set­ting enough. The tim­ing made it worse, adding an el­e­ment of sur­prise. Ker­shaw wasn’t in­formed of the plan un­til af­ter he bat­ted in the bot­tom of the sev­enth in­ning. Roberts later ex­plained that he pre­ferred Ker­shaw to any of the right-handed pinch­hit­ting op­tions that were avail­able.

Ker­shaw was steam­ing on the bench when Baez served up a triple to Trea Turner to start the eighth in­ning. Baez mirac­u­lously es­caped the jam, strik­ing out Ryan Raburn and forc­ing Bryce Harper to hit a come­backer that al­lowed him to throw out Turner at the plate.

Ken­ley Jansen reg­is­tered a four-out save to pre­serve the win, but that didn’t ad­dress the greater is­sue.

Ker­shaw and Roberts said lit­tle about the sit­u­a­tion, in­ad­ver­tently exposing the mag­ni­tude of the philo­soph­i­cal gulf that ex­ists be­tween the pitcher and the team.

“I’m go­ing to say some­thing cliche, but it is what it is,” Ker­shaw said. “So there you go.”

Ker­shaw wouldn’t even ac­knowl­edge he wanted to re­main in the game, some­thing he’s had no trou­ble do­ing in the past.

“I think I’ve kind of an­swered it as best as I’m go­ing to,” he said.

Roberts was in a no-win po­si­tion, caught be­tween want­ing to back his star player and lis­ten to the guid­ance pro­vided by an an­a­lyt­i­cally driven front of­fice.

The man­ager said he was set on stay­ing with Ker­shaw in the eigthth in­ning un­til he re­flected on the pre­vi­ous seven frames. He thought Ker­shaw wasn’t at his best, some­thing Ker­shaw him­self ac­knowl­edged.

“I think the easy thing for me to do was send him back out there,” Roberts said. “But I think the re­spon­si­ble thing, and for me, the right thing, ei­ther way it played out, was to go to the ’pen.”

Roberts em­pha­sized that his re­spon­si­bil­ity was to the team, not to any in­di­vid­ual. The prob­lem with that line of think­ing is that in this case, the in­di­vid­ual has an over­sized in­flu­ence on the team.

Ker­shaw is a model pro­fes­sional, and it’s not as if he will sud­denly stop try­ing be­cause he’s up­set with how he’s be­ing used. But the Dodgers won’t only need Ker­shaw in Oc­to­ber, they will need the best pos­si­ble ver­sion of him. This won’t help.

And the ram­i­fi­ca­tions could ex­tend be­yond this year. At the end of next sea­son, Ker­shaw will have the op­tion of be­com­ing a free agent.

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