"I felt I had to prove myself to my peers, and I felt I didn't accomplish that last year," said Kershaw, who turned 21 this spring. "Last year I was this 20-year-old kid in the clubhouse and I didn't want to be looked down on as some youngster who didn't belong. This year I came in with a little chip on my shoulder."
It's a funny choice of words for someone currently on the disabled list with a separated right shoulder, an injury sustained in a careless collision while shagging fly balls in batting practice, sending the gifted left-hander to the sidelines for two weeks in the middle of a pennant race.
But Kershaw credits that chip on his shoulder with helping him fit in. He knows what the driver's license says, but he doesn't consider himself a 21-year-old once he walks into the clubhouse, nor does he expect to be cut any slack for his birth date.
"I don't buy that I'm doing good 'for a 21-year-old,' " he said. "I don't think anybody here looks at me like I'm 21 or expects me to struggle because of my age. They expect me to pitch effectively in the big leagues. That's my job. I'm up here like everybody else and should be held to the same standards. I don't want to act my age, I just want to be part of the team."
Hold Kershaw to any standards you like, and he measures up nicely this year. He was erratic early -- allowing at least four earned runs in four of his first seven starts -- and conceded he was worried he might be returned to the Minor Leagues.
"So I took a step back a little, because I was thinking too much about saving my spot on the team and making sure I stayed up and put it in perspective," he said. "[Manager] Joe [Torre] showed confidence in me, and I figured stuff out. I shifted from an approach of having to prove myself to just going out every start and competing."
|Clayton Kershaw's stats over his first two seasons.|
|* Lowest in the Major Leagues|
He's allowed four earned runs only once in his past 21 starts. When the Dodgers were scoring in June and July, he reeled off five consecutive wins. He's been victimized more than any other Dodgers starter during the offense's second-half outage, going winless over his past nine starts (8-8 on the season), even though his ERA in that time actually lowered, from 2.95 to 2.89, ninth in the league.
"I always expect to win every time out, but it just started happening," he said. "You get on a run, you pitch on the right day when we're scoring runs. But the wins and losses come and go."
His opponents' batting average of .202 is lowest in the Major Leagues, and his strikeout-per-nine-innings ratio is fourth in the league. Basically a bystander in last year's postseason (two innings of relief), he'll be starting as long as he's healthy and the Dodgers are alive in October.
The occasional fits of wildness (he's second in the league in walks allowed) remain his last major hurdle, but they also come with being an inexperienced left-hander with a fastball in the mid-90s and an over-the-top curve that buckles knees when he commands it.
"I think I've earned the respect of my teammates this year," he said. "I feel like a member of the team. That's why being hurt has been so hard for me. I don't feel like I'm part of the team now. I'm never shagging again."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.