Honeycutt not surprised by Kershaw's short-rest gem
Dodgers pitching coach says ace has great ability to adapt to game situations
LOS ANGELES -- As media hand wringing reached a crescendo over the Dodgers pitching Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest Monday, Sandy Koufax found it all so amusing.
"We're talking before the game, and Sandy's saying that it's really neat how you guys are having so much conversation and concern," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "He said he's thinking back to his day, pitching on two days' rest, and he couldn't remember anybody giving a darn."
After throwing six innings -- it would have been seven with better defense behind him -- Kershaw didn't take Tuesday off, instead going through his regular day-after workout at Dodger Stadium. Barring the unexpected, Honeycutt said Kershaw will start on normal rest Saturday in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, with Zack Greinke starting Game 1 on Friday.
Asked if he felt Kershaw needed an extra day or two of rest before his next start, Honeycutt said no, relaying another part of his conversation with Koufax, the Hall of Famer who is now a Dodgers special advisor to the chairman.
"We were talking about how crazy the expectations were in another time and where the game is now," Honeycutt said. "The beauty of Kersh is that the guy is more of a throwback. He just plays to play and have the challenge of the game, and it doesn't matter to him what anybody thinks."
Of course, the concern with a mentality that leads to pitching a World Series Game 7 on two days' rest -- as Koufax did in 1965 -- is that a career can be cut short at age 30, as Koufax's was.
So as an organization, Monday's decision was complicated by the dilemma of winning now with the best pitcher, while putting the best pitcher at risk at age 25, with a nine-figure contract extension looming. For what it's worth, the special advisor said after the game that he "thought it was a good move to pitch Clayton."
Honeycutt agreed, and explained why.
"I don't think he'd do anything to hurt himself," Honeycutt said. "At the same time, he cares so much about the team and winning. He understands more than a lot of people do. He's a very good evaluator encompassing everything. That separates him from the majority. The best players just seem in tune with the full program, not just pitching. He has a feel on the pulse of the whole team. I just can't help but feel something special for this young man. He's just different."
In his eighth year as the club's Major league pitching coach, after four years as the Minor League pitching coordinator, Honeycutt sets the pitching agenda throughout the organization.
He's overseen Kershaw's development since the ace lefty was drafted in 2006, insisting on protecting the teenager's arm during a quick but conservative Minor League stint. He advocated rigid pitch limits in Kershaw's early years in the Major Leagues and was a consistent "no" vote for every past temptation to pitch Kershaw on short rest.
But Honeycutt said this time was different, and he was good with it because of the pitcher Kershaw has become.
"I just have faith in Kersh, and he was magnificent," said Honeycutt. "You hold your breath any time anybody does something they don't regularly do. At the same time, it's this time of year, and he was adamant. Early on, he showed no ill effects and he didn't want to come out. He's just that type of guy."
Honeycutt said Kershaw's ability to adjust in-game -- as he showed in Game 1 in Atlanta -- is an example of the pitcher's maturity.
"He's learned how to better control the game and not let the game control him," Honeycutt said. "He's become able to sense that when the other club is running up his pitch count, he can adjust so he can get deeper [into the game].
"That's really what he did in Atlanta. He knows when he can't give away any pitches. His consistency the other night on short rest was kind of unbelievable. He was controlling the game. He's learning when to throw a strike and when not to. He gets into a different mode, 'Time to get a ground ball.' It's uncanny what he's evolved into."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.