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DODGERS SPRING REPORT

Phenom factor is down for Clayton Kershaw

He starts the season in the rotation and is expected to throw 200 innings.

March 29, 2009|Dylan Hernandez

PHOENIX — Clayton Kershaw isn't receiving as many reporters at his locker as he did a spring ago.

"I guess there's a little less hype," Kershaw said.

The novelty of being the can't-miss-kid in the Dodgers' clubhouse has subsided, the anticipation of the heights he might reach replaced by the reality that a 21-year-old will be leaned on to be the club's fourth starter.

"That's great," Kershaw said. "It helps me focus on what I have to do."

As Kershaw gets some relatively quiet time, the burden of public expectation will be passed onto one of his childhood friends, University of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, who could be taken by the Detroit Lions with the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

"Obviously, his hype is a lot bigger than mine," Kershaw said.

Kershaw and Stafford, who still trade text messages, played numerous sports together growing up in the Dallas area -- baseball, football, basketball and soccer. Stafford was a shortstop and closer on the varsity baseball team in their first two years at Highland Park High. Kershaw was Stafford's center on the freshman football team.

"He could throw a baseball a lot better than I could throw a football," Kershaw said.

While the sports world at large might be more interested in Stafford's future than Kershaw's, Kershaw's teammates and coaches continue to buzz every time they see him throw the ball.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt says he envisions Kershaw throwing 200 innings this year, a considerable workload for a pitcher his age. Kershaw threw 169 innings last year, including 61 1/3 innings in the minors that common sense indicates weren't as physically and psychologically taxing as the 107 2/3 he threw in the majors.

Can Kershaw handle that kind of increased workload without jeopardizing his health?

He thinks so.

"I have to minimize how many pitches I throw," he said. "Last year, I got people out, but at the same time, I was getting deep into counts."

He started doing that at the end of last season, as he was 3-0 with a 3.58 earned-run average over his last five starts.

Honeycutt said he's encouraged by the way Kershaw has been able to throw his off-speed pitches in any count this spring, particularly his changeup.

"What you're seeing in camp is that when the count is 1-0, 2-0, you see the ability to throw a changeup, sometimes back to back," Honeycutt said.

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Throw strikes

Randy Wolf was relearned a valuable lesson Saturday in his last full-length start of the spring: Don't walk the leadoff hitter.

Wolf held the Chicago White Sox scoreless through five innings at Camelback Ranch, only to start the sixth by walking Josh Fields. That was followed by a couple of bunt singles and a two-run double. By the end of the inning, Wolf was charged with four runs in the 6-1 loss.

"I deserved that inning," Wolf said. "I deserved the bunt hits in a row. . . . It's like a nun took out a ruler and slapped me on the wrist."

Wolf will pitch once more in the exhibition season, a 50-pitch tuneup against the Angels on Thursday at Dodger Stadium. Wolf, who signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers this winter, will leave Arizona with a 3-2 record and 4.87 earned-run average.

Wolf's final Cactus League start came with a twist.

From the dugout, he looked up and saw a figure who looked familiar behind first base. It was his brother, umpire Jim Wolf, with whom he was planning to attend a concert that night.

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Short hops

Manager Joe Torre fielded his regular lineup -- minus Casey Blake -- for the second consecutive day but the Dodgers were once again held to one run. "We're saving [the runs], evidently, for the season," Torre said. . . . Blake, who was out of camp for two days for the birth of his fourth child (not his third, as was reported in this space Friday), is expected back today. . . . Left-handed reliever Scott Elbert was optioned to the minors, where he will be used as a starter. "It doesn't matter to me," Elbert said of the move from the bullpen to rotation. "It's part of it. They have a plan for everybody." Torre says he wants the option to use Elbert in either role if management decides to call him up.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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