"Twenty years old and pitching in a pennant race," Padres manager Bud Black said of the left-handed Kershaw. "It's hard not to like his arm."
Well, unless you were facing Kershaw, who didn't pitch like he was the youngest player in the Major Leagues on Tuesday, carrying a shutout into the seventh inning of the Dodgers' 8-4 victory over the Padres before 39,330 at Dodger Stadium.
Kershaw, who turned 20 on March 19, relied on essentially two pitches, a fastball and a hard breaking ball with Whiffle-ball-like snap, to turn the Padres (53-85) in knots as the Dodgers built a 7-0 lead over the first four innings.
It wasn't that Kershaw's fastball, which routinely ran around 93-94 mph, was particularly devastating or that his curveball was unlike anything the Padres had ever seen. No, it was more the differential in speeds between the two pitches with the same arm speed and arm action that kept San Diego's hitters guessing.
"It's tough when there's that big a deferential," said San Diego outfielder Chase Headley, who had two of the Padres' six hits. "He was throwing 93-94, but when you go from that to a 75-mile-per-hour curveball, that's going to make it tough on hitters."
Kershaw carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning, but Headley fisted a ball the other way down the right-field line to open the frame. Kershaw would work seven-plus innings, allowing three runs -- two of which scored after he was removed -- on three hits with six strikeouts.
Cha Seung Baek, the Padres' starting pitcher who had lost once on the road this season, was long gone by the time Kershaw left to a rousing ovation. In fact, Baek (4-9) lasted just 3 2/3 innings after struggling with his command and balance, though Blake DeWitt and Manny Ramirez had no leverage issues as they each hit home runs.
"I was always behind in the count," said Baek, who allowed seven runs, the most he's yielded since joining the Padres in May. "I didn't make pitches. I tried hard ... but my balance wasn't good."
Baek allowed a two-run home run to Ramirez in the first inning and then, in the fourth inning, buzzed the enigmatic Ramirez with a fastball inside as Ramirez was forced to dance away from the plate. Both benches were warned by plate umpire Jerry Meals, to the surprise of Baek.
"He couldn't get into a rhythm," Black said. "He wasn't repeating any pitches. He couldn't get to the point where he was retiring consecutive hitters. He couldn't find his way."
Not a glowing review of a pitcher the Padres would like to see use this last month productively as a stepping stone into their plans for 2009, which is essentially why the Padres' clubhouse is so filled with rookies and why the lineup card reflects that.
"It's good for them to play in Major League stadiums and cut their teeth," Black said. "But it doesn't happen in months."