The way the Dodgers offense has looked in these two games, a bigger issue than Kershaw's arm is whether he can hit.
The Dodgers have scored one run in the first two games of this series, on a sacrifice fly. With the veterans of no immediate help, this offense now relies on the Matt Kemps and James Loneys, but in this game, they combined for six strikeouts. The Dodgers went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven runners. They are 0-for-21 with runners in scoring position over their last three games.
The offense that let down Derek Lowe Friday night was of no help to Brad Penny, who had a strange outing that was much better than the linescore looked.
Penny pitched seven innings, six of them a scoreless one-hitter. Hampered by shoulder stiffness that pushed back his previous start by a day, he was free and easy and lighting up the radar gun at 97 mph from the first inning.
"That's the best I've felt in five years," said Penny, who celebrated his 30th birthday earlier in the day when his thoroughbred horse, Synnin and Grinnin, won the sixth race at Hollywood Park. "For me, it's kind of peace of mind to have my stuff, especially after being a little tender and getting pushed back."
Of course, there was that one other inning Penny pitched. It didn't go so well.
"They didn't hit the ball that hard," noted Penny, charged with four runs in the blink of an eye. "But with two outs and nobody on, I've got to get out of that inning."
It was the third inning and, he didn't. Penny seemed to be cruising when, with two outs, he issued consecutive four-pitch walks to Adam Kennedy and Skip Schumaker. The next six pitches turned the game into an insurmountable Cardinals lead.
Chris Duncan singled in one run. Kemp, Jones' replacement in center field, was unable to make a diving catch on Albert Pujols' sinking liner and, with nobody covering second base, Pujols turned it into an RBI double. With runners on second and third, Rick Ankiel sliced a two-run double just inside the left-field line.
Penny would face the minimum 15 batters after that, retiring 11 straight at one point. But the damage had been done and the Dodgers' offense could inflict no damage of its own, this time Kyle Lohse tossing six scoreless innings to raise his record to 4-2.
"We're not doing a very good job swinging the bats right now," said manager Joe Torre. "We're a little impatient. It's frustrating. We're looking for Lowe and Penny to get back on track and they shut out the other club for (all but two innings) and we lose two games."
Lowe (2-5), winless over the past month, allowed a two-run homer in Friday night's 2-1 loss, but six of his seven innings were scoreless. Penny (5-5) hasn't won in his last four starts, going 0-3 with a 9.13 ERA. Dodgers starters suddenly have strung four consecutive starts of at least seven innings each. But if the offense keeps averaging the half a run a game of this series, all the Clayton Kershaws in the world won't be enough.
"A lot of it is inexperience," said Torre, who has lost three veteran bats with the one that remains, Jeff Kent, batting .228. "Young players mature at their own speed. They have to learn by going up there that certain things don't work. They try to get too big and too long [in the swing], try to hit the ball too hard. We try to remind them to keep small and big things happen."
For the record, Kershaw was 2-for-10 at the plate for Double-A Jacksonville. Despite all the hype surrounding his arrival, he was still just a rookie subject to traditional hazing before Saturday night's game, as teammates pulled the old switcheroo and he came onto the field unknowingly wearing Jason Schmidt's uniform No. 29 instead of the No. 54 he's been issued.