Debut Not Perfect But Pretty Darn Good

It wasn't exactly "Citizen Kane" but it was a long, long way from "Ernest Saves Christmas" so if it were a movie review, you'd give Clayton Kershaw's professional debut, two and one-half, maybe three stars as he ranged variously from good to very good for most of the two innings he pitched at Jupiter against the Gulf Coast Marlins Friday.

The lefthander himself said he was "neutral " about his performance which resulted in a line of 2-2-0 including three strikeouts and one walk. Oh, he managed to work himself into a situation where danger lurked but the striking part of his day was he righted himself and bore down with his best pitches in damage control.

He started with fast balls, wasting little time in fanning his first professional foe. The next batter jumped on the first pitch, a fast ball right in the red zone, for a looping single to left. Kershaw then began mixing in his curve and here disaster loomed.

He bounced one five feet in front of the plate for one wild pitch, then, did it again as the runner advanced to third. He wound up walking that man. Uh, oh, runners on first and third with only one out.

It should be noted that this was his first work in over three weeks and the rust was obviously showing . "I couldn't control my off-speed pitches," he admitted later. So, he went strictly with the heat which wasn't the 96 mph he'd hit in high school but which sat nicely in the 92-93 range throughout.

Perhaps the best pitch of the day was a nasty heater that caught the outside black for a called strike three on the next man. The following hitter bounced harmlessly to Preston Mattingly at short who flipped to second for the force and the inning was over.

Kershaw dominated the strike zone with heat to first two men in the second, notching his third strikeout and a fly out. He started the next man with still another fast ball which the man was sitting on, sending another looper to left for a base knock. But the next couldn't get around quickly enough, flying out harmlessly to right and the inning was done.

"I was nervous," he admitted later, saying that the pro experience was "about what I expected. There are things I have to learn and I hope to get better every time I go out. "

Dodger organizational pitching coordinator Marty Reed was on hand for the occasion, and commented, "I was pleased. I was particularly impressed with the way he took command with his fast ball. A lot of pitchers just out of high school don't do that but he had confidence in the pitch, challenged them with it and took command.

"Mechanically, he looked sound. Oh, he tends to drift out a bit as he throws but that's easily correctable. All in all, it was an impressive performance."

Of course, this being the Gulf Coast League , there were maybe only five spectators in attendance and a check with one of them revealed that, while he had read about Kershaw's being named High School Player of the Year in USA Today, he wasn't aware that this was the same kid on the mound. No, he had just wandered over for an inning or so before his own boy's tryout for the Junior Olympic team on an adjacent diamond.

The lack of attention, thopugh, didn't disturb Kershaw. He says he's fine with the Gulf Coast League the way it is and is enjoying the experience and his new teammates.

The Dodgers hope that Friday's showing was only a hint of what's to come. They're preparing the sequel now.