Clayton Kershaw will be on the mound to start the season April 1 against the… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
PHOENIX — — If there was any surprise about Clayton Kershaw being selected the Dodgers' opening-day starter by Manager Don Mattingly on Saturday, it was that there was any announcement at all.
"I don't even know why he had to announce it," catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Kershaw, who turns 25 next month, will pitch on opening day for the third consecutive year. The Dodgers start the season April 1 against the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium.
"He's the guy who's there for the big games, opening day, first game after the break," Ellis said. "If you're fortunate enough to make the playoffs, you know who's going to be there for Game 1."
The last Dodgers pitcher to start on three consecutive opening days was Derek Lowe, who did it from 2005 to 2007.
The team won both of Kershaw's opening-day starts. Kershaw pitched seven scoreless innings in 2011 to beat Tim Lincecum and the Giants, 1-0, at Dodger Stadium. A stomach virus limited him to three innings last year in San Diego, but the Dodgers defeated the Padres, 5-3.
The more Kershaw has established himself as the team's undisputed ace, the more comfortable he has become expressing himself, particularly in regard to his Christian faith.
Before the team's first full-squad workout of the spring Saturday, he was in the clubhouse wearing a blue shirt designed by former teammate Brent Leach. The shirt, which he has worn multiple times this spring, read on the back, "Warriors," and "Exodus 15:3."
"I think I'm more comfortable with the circumstances that I'm in in the clubhouse," he said. "I just feel more at ease. Maybe that's what's coming through."
In some versions of the Bible, the verse on the shirt reads, "The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name."
"Some people have a bad stereotype of Christian people, that they're kind of rollovers or pushovers," Kershaw said. "You have to be bold with your faith, on and off the field. I think that's what the shirt symbolizes."
That stereotype has never applied to Kershaw, who has a degree of competitiveness that is rare even at this level, coaches and teammates said.
"With Clayton, it's four days of being a great teammate, just a part-time comedian, part-time clown in the weight room, in the clubhouse, on the field," Ellis said.
On the days he pitches, Kershaw turns into someone else.
"You have to be really measured and careful with what you're going to say to him," Ellis said. "It's basically going to be only about the opponent that night. He has a ton of focus from the moment he steps in the clubhouse. There's no chit-chat. It's laser-like focus. If you don't have anything to contribute game-plan-wise, you might as well find somebody else to talk to."
This happens every five days, regardless.
That could be why Kershaw downplayed the significance of the April 1 start.
Although Kershaw called his latest opening-day assignment "a huge honor," he was skeptical that the atmosphere at Dodger Stadium would be different because of the buzz created by the team's deep-pocket new owners.
"It's probably the same as every opening day," he said. "I don't expect anything different. I know there's added excitement this season, for sure, and I'm not negating that. But opening day's opening day, whether it's here or anywhere else."
And a start is a start, whether it's in the regular season or spring training.
"I come into spring training thinking, even whether it's true or not, that you have to earn a job," he said. "Go out there and compete and fight and have a lot of fun doing it. I don't treat spring-training games any different than I treat the regular-season games. Other than the amount of innings I pitch, there's no difference to me."
Kershaw will start the Dodgers' exhibition opener Feb. 23 against the Chicago White Sox. Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu will pitch the game the next day, also against the White Sox.