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BILL PLASCHKE

Dodgers will be looking inside for outs

The choice of Clayton Kershaw as the Game 1 starter is telling, as his aggressive approach signals the Dodgers are aware they have to keep Phillies' batters off-balance.

October 15, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

Payback is a pitch.

An inside pitch, at their shirts, behind their butts, in their minds.

Revenge is heat.

The inside kind, making batters dance and bats wobble and thoughts wander.

If the Dodgers want to push the Philadelphia Phillies off their throne, they must first push them off the plate.

If the Dodgers want to pierce the Philadelphia Phillies' heart, they must first be willing to travel under their chins.

A year ago, the Phillies pitchers had the Dodgers tasting dirt with constant inside pitches, robbing the young team of its rhythm and confidence in a four-games-to-one beating.

Beginning today in their National League Championship Series rematch, the Dodgers must return the flavor.

"Last year it got out of hand," said Manager Joe Torre during Wednesday's workout. "We learned from that, no question."

Beginning today at 5 p.m. at Dodger Stadium, we will find out how much they learned.

"We're very different," Torre said.

The difference can be quickly illustrated with Torre's choice of a Game 1 starter.

Nobody in the rotation has less experience, yet nobody has more swagger.

"Be aggressive," said the beard-stubbled Clayton Kershaw, staring down a questioner. "That is what I try to do every time."

The choice was Kershaw, because nobody on the staff throws more fearlessly to more sides of the plate.

The choice was Kershaw, because he has an attitude to match his command.

"You've got to be aggressive within the strike zone, and sometimes out of the strike zone," he said. "That's the way it works."

Not that the Dodgers need Kershaw to be Don Drysdale. Heck, they will settle for him being Brett Myers.

Remember Myers? The seat of Russell Martin's pants will never forget him.

Myers was the Phillies starter in Game 2 of last year's NLCS, an ordinary sort who defined the entire series in his first inning.

On his fifth pitch, he knocked down Martin. On his eighth pitch, he brushed back Manny Ramirez. His ninth pitch sailed behind Ramirez's head.

The Dodgers hitters were never again comfortable, and the series was never again close.

Afterward, everyone thought Ramirez would be filled with accusations, but instead he offered nothing but praise.

"I want to have a guy like that on my team," Ramirez said of Myers.

Those words doomed Chad Billingsley, who became the center of a clubhouse storm when he didn't retaliate during the game.

Today, Billingsley is in the bullpen, and the mandate is clear.

"We want our guys to use both sides of the plate," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "This is something we've set out to do since the end of last season. That has been our focus."

This doesn't mean the Dodgers should just go out and hit somebody. Got that, Vicente Padilla?

While the Dodgers' Game 2 starter nearly ended his career because he couldn't stop throwing at people, that sort of headhunting is not what the Dodgers need.

This is not about making the Phillies duck. It is about making them dance.

This is about making them uncomfortable in the batters' box, making them move, choking their bat speed, distracting their swing.

"You want the batters to move their feet," said the Dodgers' Doug Mientkiewicz. "If you throw at my head, I'm locked in. But if you keep throwing down and in, I start moving around, I get off my routine."

Mientkiewicz, who has appeared in 29 postseason games and serves as one of the clubhouse gurus, watched the Dodgers last October against Philadelphia and saw exactly what they saw.

"This was a team that lost its composure," he said.

He says this team is clearly different.

"We've got some savvy now," he said.

In other words, they have guys who understand what it is like to keep Ryan Howard from diving and Chase Utley from digging.

"You can't be intimidated by them," said third base coach Larry Bowa. "You have to pitch . . . you have to be aggressive."

Kershaw, a lefty facing a team whose three best hitters bat left-handed, needs to set the tone.

George Sherrill and Hong-Chih Kuo, two lefty relievers with the same mentality, carry the same burden.

"If they do a job on us, then it's going to be tough on us," said Phillies' Manager Charlie Manuel of the three lefties.

You know the Phillies will throw the inside jabs. During the regular season, the Phillies' pitchers led the major leagues in hitting batters. Nearly every other game -- 75 batters total -- somebody was plunked.

Some of that was from plain wildness. But some of that was also from pure fearlessness.

"That's a blue-collar team over there," Bowa said. "They just keep coming at you."

Will the Dodgers do the same? Does this pretty pitching staff have the toughness to be feared? Will the Dodgers' hitters have the confidence that they will be protected?

When asked about last year's wimpy NLCS meltdown, Kershaw shook his head.

"I don't remember that," he said.

He is the only one.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillPlaschke

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