SAN FRANCISCO — With Matt Kemp already injured and condemned to cheerleading for the evening, the Dodgers scratched Clayton Kershaw from his scheduled start Sunday in their most important game this season.
Kershaw's hip was hurting.
Joe Blanton pitched in place of Kershaw and pitched the way Joe Blanton sometimes does, throwing 36 pitches in a two-run first inning for the San Francisco Giants and sending the Dodgers crashing to a 4-0 defeat.
The offensively stalled Dodgers lost two of three games to the first-place Giants at AT&T Park over the weekend, turning their ambitions of winning the National League West into a pipe dream.
With 21 games remaining, the Dodgers trail the Giants by 51/2 games. Their deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals, who hold the second of two wild-card positions, increased to 11/2 games.
Kershaw is now scheduled to pitch the Dodgers' next game, Tuesday in Arizona.
Sitting out the final game in San Francisco didn't sit well with the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, who said his condition had improved enough over the last two days to pitch Sunday.
"I would have liked to have pitched today," Kershaw said.
The problems started Friday when Kershaw was working out at AT&T Park.
"He was feeling something in his manly region," Manager Don Mattingly said.
Asked that night if anything was wrong, Kershaw lied.
"Coincidence," he said of why he returned to the clubhouse with Stan Conte, the head of the team's medical department.
Concerned Kershaw might have a hernia, the Dodgers had him undergo an MRI exam the next day. The exam showed Kershaw had inflammation in his hip, but no hernia.
Kershaw returned to the field early Sunday afternoon with the medical staff.
"I just threw off the mound like five pitches," Kershaw said. "That was kind of all I needed to have peace of mind that I can do it."
But Mattingly and the medical staff decided to hold him out.
Mattingly said that if the Dodgers were playing Game 7 of the World Series that day, Kershaw would have pitched.
"Obviously, it's a big game for us," Mattingly said. "But this is all about giving him the chance to be healthy the rest of the way and give us the best chance."
And if Kershaw starts Tuesday, he would be in line to pitch the first game of the last series of the season, also against the Giants.
The thinking led to Mattingly handing the ball to Blanton, who was 1-3 with a 6.17 earned-run average in six starts since he was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Kershaw's career ERA at AT&T Park is 0.66. Blanton's was 4.37 and was about to get worse.
Blanton was told Saturday night to go to the park expecting to start. His assignment was confirmed at around 1 p.m. on Sunday.
"It is frustrating to know your No. 1 couldn't go," outfielder Shane Victorino said.
Blanton gave up a two-out, two-run double to Hunter Pence in the first inning that put the Dodgers behind, 2-0. He settled down to hold the Giants scoreless over the next three innings, but the home team got to him again in the fifth inning.
That was when Angel Pagan tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Marco Scutaro to increase the lead to 3-0.
Buster Posey hit a home run in the sixth inning to put the game out of reach.
But the blame didn't fall entirely on Blanton. The Dodgers' slumping offense couldn't do anything against left-hander Barry Zito, who held them to four hits over 61/3 innings.