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Clayton Kershaw has the right stuff in opener

Dodgers' ace outduels Giants' Tim Lincecum in a 2-1 victory. Matt Kemp scores both runs.

March 31, 2011|By Dylan Hernandez

Rod Barajas is 35 years old. This season is his 13th in the major leagues.

But he said he felt different when he took the field at Dodger Stadium on Thursday afternoon. On opening day, the nerves get to everyone.

Well, almost everyone.

Barajas reviewed scouting reports with Clayton Kershaw. For seven innings, he caught him. And from what Barajas could tell, Kershaw was unmoved by the magnitude of the event.

"He's special," Barajas said.

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In what could one day be reflected upon as a coming-of-age performance, the 23-year-old left-hander pitched seven shutout innings to earn the victory in his first opening-day start, a 2-1 win over the San Francisco Giants.

Pitching opposite Kershaw was Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner. Facing him was the team that lifted the World Series trophy in November.

The Dodgers hit a little. They barely scored. But they won.

"Honestly, every time he goes out there, you expect to win," Manager Don Mattingly said of Kershaw.

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Kershaw struck out nine batters and walked only one. He held the Giants to four hits.

"It was fun tonight," Kershaw said. "I had a blast."

Everything was working for Kershaw, who threw 96 pitches.

"He's got some kind of gift," Barajas said. "He's not just a fastball guy. He's not just a fastball-curveball guy. He's got a slider. We threw a couple of changeups. This guy continues to develop."

FYI: Matt Kemp makes strides on the basepaths

Kershaw consistently got ahead of hitters. But Barajas said he wasn't concerned when they fell behind.

"He can do anything at any time," Barajas said. "A lot of power guys, they have a tough time with the secondary pitches. With this guy, he can throw a secondary pitch behind in the count. I have the confidence and he has the confidence to pitch guys backward."

Kershaw struck out eight batters in the first four innings. The Giants didn't get a runner past first base until the fifth inning.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said that Kershaw shares something with the two former Dodgers pitchers who took part in the first-pitch ceremony, Fernando Valenzuela and Jerry Reuss. It was something that Orel Hershiser had too.

"It's an expectation," Honeycutt said. "Some people expect mediocrity. He expects to be good, really good."

The Dodgers' offense didn't do much, but Kershaw said he paid no mind. They took a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning, when a couple of throwing errors allowed Matt Kemp to scamper home.

Kemp doubled the lead in the eighth inning, when he walked, stole second base and scored on a double by James Loney.

Mattingly elected to remove Kershaw in the bottom half of that inning.

"That's Kuo's inning," Mattingly said, referring to left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo.

Kershaw said he didn't protest the decision because he was confident Kuo and closer Jonathan Broxton could seal the victory.

"Seven innings, Kuo, Brox, that's a good formula," he said.

Broxton, a two-time All-Star who looked like a batting-practice pitcher in the second half of last season, served up a solo home run to Pat Burrell that closed the gap to 2-1.

If there were concerns about Broxton, they weren't voiced.

This game belonged to Kershaw. And if Barajas is right, the entire season will be his.

"I expect him to do some special things this year," Barajas said. "He's going to be up there with the best in baseball."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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