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T.J. SIMERS

Clayton Kershaw might be a left-hander but is right on

Despite being only 21 years old, he is turning into the most reliable starter for the Dodgers.

July 19, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

Larry Bowa is shaking his head in disgust and now he's yelling at me: "You've gone soft."

The Dodgers are so concerned about this they are going to start Jason Schmidt on Monday.

They know if I can't find some way to really let Schmidt have it and get my groove back, next thing you know I'll be having tea with the Screaming Meanie and complimenting Mrs. McCourt on her choice of finger food.

You can understand the Dodgers' frustration, so used to getting prodded, pushed and ridiculed here, knowing deep down there's no way they could be doing so well without such help.

"Come on, wake someone up," Bowa shouts, the Dodgers doing their part and loading up on every available pitching retread and reject so Page 2 never runs out of targets.

You put together a sobering list like Jeff Weaver, Brent Leach, Scott Elbert, Ronald Belisario -- and I guess sobering isn't usually a word used to describe Belisario -- Eric Stults, Eric Milton, Will Ohman, Claudio Vargas, James McDonald and Guillermo Mota, and try typing with one hand covering your nose.

It's a miracle the Dodgers continue to win with so many stiffs employed as pitchers, the media going soft and not putting any heat on them.

They also haven't gotten much out of Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley just blew up and while most might expect Page 2 to go over every fat pitch with Billingsley, here I am sitting beside Clayton Kershaw. I'm sorry.

I talked to Kershaw at length before he started Saturday night's game, so you can understand why the Houston Astros couldn't score in his seven innings of two-hit work. You can also understand now why the Dodgers would like me to focus on their crummy players who would later let the Astros score.

But the truth is I've turned to mush, preferring to interview a choirboy, who dresses like a square and who never had a drink before his 21st birthday four months ago.

"You can ask my mom," Kershaw says, and how many 21-year-olds cite their moms as character witnesses when it comes to under-age drinking?

Kershaw says he ordered a beer on his 21st birthday, then decided it'd be a good idea to eat. Now that he's thinking about it, he never really did get around to ordering a second drink. On his 21st birthday.

Ordinarily, I don't like talking to kids because I have two and know what that's like. This one wears plaid shorts for heaven's sake, and a haircut that should have his mom knocking on the barber's door demanding a refund.

"I couldn't find a Supercuts," he says. "I found a place and they wanted $42. I'm not going to pay $42 to get my hair cut, so I said how much for a buzz cut?

"They gave me the student rate, $24. It's the second half of the season, and I just wanted to refocus, so I got my hair cut."

A few years from now he'll refocus while returning from wherever they're playing the All-Star game. He pitches as he did Saturday night against the Astros, he will be starting most of them.

Wouldn't you like your kid to have his future?

He's one of those rarities in baseball, great arm and good head on his shoulders. If being a quality kid wasn't enough, he's also been mentioned in the same sentence as Sandy Koufax.

"I think the comparison is OK if you say he has a fastball and curve and I have a fastball and curve," Kershaw says, "but everything else, come on, it's really unfair to him."

Too good to be true? Ask him how he's doing and he says, "If anyone is going to get a hit, I just walk him," and that's a major league sense of humor with an emphasis on self-deprecation.

He already has had the benefit of baseball from both extremes, a locker next to Jeff Kent and now Manny Ramirez. They're both lucky they didn't have to hit against him.

This would be the summer before his senior year at Texas A&M had the Dodgers not given him more than $2 million to get his schooling on the mound.

While in high school, he snapped the ball to Matthew Stafford, Detroit using the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to grab him.

"I was playing center for a reason," Kershaw says. "I wasn't the most athletic-looking freshman -- is a nice way to put it."

By his senior year he was a big-time baseball prospect. Three years later he's in the big leagues, making career start No. 40, a young guy roaming L.A., a celebrity and all that comes with it.

"I haven't seen any of that," the square says.

How about the girls?

"None," he says, "and now with the haircut, no way."

A year ago he couldn't grow whiskers, but now he has a line of fuzz running from ear to chin to ear.

"Chin straps," he says. "It's intimidating."

Yet, the Dodgers continue to baby him, limiting him to around 100 pitches because they know he's special. With that in mind, they'd like him to "pitch to contact," as Manager Joe Torre puts it, a concept Kershaw finds tough to grasp.

In high school he once struck out every one he faced.

"They don't tell you it was a five-inning game," Kershaw says.

The Dodgers aren't asking him to let them hit the ball. They just don't want him to be so fine while trying to locate home plate so he avoids walks and stays around longer. It's a process, they say.

But if this is a work in progress, unbeaten in his last seven starts with a 0.63 earned-run average, what's the completed product going to look like?

His name has been tossed around in trade rumors, but only from the clueless, Kershaw as much as an untouchable now as anyone here.

But from what I understand, Weaver, Leach, Elbert, Belisario, Stults, Milton, Ohman, Vargas, McDonald and Mota are available, the quicker you can get them out of my sights the better.

I prefer to stress the positive.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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