Kershaw to challenge hot-hitting Phils
LA hurler won't hesitate to use inside of plate in Game 1
LOS ANGELES -- After Philadelphia defeated Los Angeles, 4-1, in last year's National League Championship Series, one of the hottest topics up for debate was how the Dodgers pitched the Phillies' lineup.
Or, to be more accurate, how they didn't pitch Philadelphia during the series.
The Dodgers pitchers favored the outside part of the plate throughout the 2008 NLCS. And freed from worrying about inside pitches, the deep Philadelphia lineup thrived; averaging five runs per game in the series.
So when looking back on what transpired last year, it's not surprising the Dodgers will turn to Clayton Kershaw -- a pitcher who won't hesitate to challenge hitters -- in Game 1 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium against the Phillies at 5:07 p.m. PT on TBS.
- 2009 Regular Season
- Overall: 32 GS, 10-11, 4.32 ERA, 43 BB, 168 K
- Overall: 31 G, 30 GS, 8-8, 2.79 ERA, 91 BB, 185 K
- Key stat: 3.9 K/BB, fifth-best in NL
- Key stat: Allowed 7 HR all year
- Career: 7 GS, 4-2, 2.70
- Career: 3 G, 1 GS, 0-0, 3.12
Hates to face: Ronnie Belliard, 7-for-26, .538 SLG
Hates to face: Chase Utley, 3-for-10, 2 XBH, 2 BB
"You've got to establish both parts of the plate," Kershaw said during his Wednesday news conference. "You've got to be aggressive within the strike zone and sometimes out of the strike zone."
Kershaw's ability to mix and match his pitches in and out of the strike zone could go a long way toward determining which team grabs a 1-0 lead in the series.
The Phillies showed what they're capable of doing to pitches up in the zone during their 3-1 series victory over the Rockies in the NL Division Series.
Ryan Howard knocked in a team-high six runs -- two coming via his two-out double off Huston Street in the ninth inning of Game 4 -- and hit .375 in the NLDS.
Not to be outdone, Chase Utley hit .429 with a homer in the series, Jayson Werth hit .357 with two home runs and Shane Victorino hit .353 with a home run and a double.
It's a deep lineup, one that would be a nightmare for just about any starter to face. But that's what Kershaw will be up against Thursday night, and his strategy against the Philadelphia hitters is pretty straightforward.
"Be aggressive -- that's what I try to do every time," Kershaw said. "The pitcher's job is just to go right after them with your best stuff, and if they beat you -- tip your hat to them."
Kershaw did just that after the two times he faced the Phillies this season.
On May 12 in Philadelphia, Kershaw lasted five innings and gave up four runs on four hits and four walks. The Dodgers lost, 5-3.
Then, on June 4 at home, Kershaw threw 5 1/3 innings and allowed two runs on four hits and three walks. The Dodgers lost, 3-0.
But as Kershaw said, "that was a long time ago."
After that June 4 start, Kershaw had a 1.97 ERA over his final 20 appearances (19 starts) of the season. He cut down on his knack for walking batters and figured out how to last deeper into games.
"I think once June came around, he was a completely different pitcher for us," manager Joe Torre said.
Kershaw's maturation throughout this season came to a head during Game 2 of the NLDS, when he dueled Cardinals ace (and NL Cy Young Award hopeful) Adam Wainwright for 6 2/3 innings.
"I've figured out some stuff out from the beginning of the season to now," Kershaw said.
The Dodgers hope that includes figuring out a way to come out on top against the Phillies.
David Ely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.