Clayton Kershaw gave up just five hits over 8 2/3 innings for the Dodgers… (Paul Buck / EPA )
Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly was talking Tuesday afternoon about the importance of Zack Greinke's return to the rotation when he hit upon an unfortunate comparison.
"Getting him back," he said "kind of gives you another Kershaw."
Consider that wishful thinking. Because a couple of hours later Kershaw went out and proved there's no one like him, with the Dodgers or in any other rotation, by dominating the Washington Nationals through 82/3 innings in a 2-0 victory.
Kershaw gave up five hits and struck out 11, coming within a strike of his second shutout of the season, leading the Dodgers to only their third victory in their last 12 games.
"It's hard to say you've seen him better," Mattingly said. "But there are a lot of games where you feel that way.
"Clayton, you always feel like he's going to be really good."
And he may be improving. In his last four outings, Kershaw has given up only two earned runs in 222/3 innings, dropping his earned-run average to a major league-best 1.40 and his career mark to 2.70, the lowest by a starter since 1920 with a minimum of 1,000 innings pitched.
"I haven't been playing very long. So there's a lot of time to screw that up," said Kershaw, who had a game ball tucked in a plastic bag at his locker, commemorating the feat.
The left-hander struck out eight of the first 12 batters he retired, including six in a row. And after the Nationals loaded the bases on two singles and a walk in a 29-pitch first inning, Kershaw allowed only three batters to reach base the rest of the way.
The Dodgers scored the only runs they would need in the third inning, and fittingly Kershaw was right in the middle of things, starting the rally by taking a two-strike pitch off his foot.
One out later Matt Kemp, batting second in a revised lineup, hit a single that advanced Kershaw to second base and after both runners moved up on Dan Haren's wild pitch, Andre Ethier hit a two-out, two-strike pitch up the middle for a two-run single.
For Kemp, the single extended his hitting streak to 13 games, his longest in more than 13 months.
After that it was all Kershaw (4-2), with the left-hander retiring 10 batters in a row before Adam LaRoche's two-strike single with two outs in the ninth inning. That came on Kershaw's 132nd pitch, so Mattingly went to the bullpen, drawing boos from the sellout crowd of 51,279.
The crowd sent Kershaw off to a standing ovation.
But before he left he added one more footnote to the history books since Tuesday's game was his 21st consecutive start in which he gave up three or fewer runs, the longest such streak by a Dodgers starter since Orel Hershiser did it in 27 straight games in 1985-86.
"He's an unbelievable pitcher," said Washington's Ian Desmond, who had one of the Nationals' four hits. "He's the best in the game, in my opinion."
Which gives Greinke quite an act to follow Wednesday.
Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.