Originally published by DodgerBlue.com
The Los Angeles Dodgers faced the prospect of losing franchise legend Clayton Kershaw in free agency this past offseason but ensured he would spend at least one more year with the team by re-signing him to a new contract.
Even after an injury-riddled 2021 season, keeping the veteran southpaw was the team’s top priority as they hope Kershaw spends his entire career in L.A.
But the Dodgers didn’t just prioritize him for sentimental reasons. They have World Series aspirations and believe Kershaw can help them reach that goal.
Although the 34-year-old is no longer the game’s best starter, Kershaw is still an elite pitcher and he has continued working to improve, even as he enters his 15th season, by using a new changeup grip during Spring Training, according to Jack Harris of the L.A. Times:
But this spring, Kershaw has a new changeup grip he worked on with Prior and assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness, Roberts said. Even before his Cactus League starts, Kershaw broke it out during live backfield at-bats against his teammates. “This year, he seems to have a little bit more comfort with it,” Prior said.
“He got some good feedback from some of the hitters the other day. There’s some potential there. Usually, it never really gets to a point where he has a feel for it. And then the season is starting so you just kind of go on [without it]. But the early indications are there’s some positive stuff coming out of it.”
Kershaw has previously worked on his changeup but it’s never been a pitch he ended up sticking with. Since the beginning of 2017, Kershaw has only thrown 65 changeups in game, including 11 of them last season, and 25 in 2017.
If Kershaw is able to find the new changeup grip works for him, it could give him another pitch to help counter declining velocity and keep him among the game’s best starters moving forward.
But even if he can’t, Kershaw has proven he can pitch without relying on a changeup. Last season, he posted the highest ERA of his career since his rookie year, but it was still a top-35 ERA among pitchers with at least 120 innings, and his FIP ranked 10th.
Kershaw finished the 2021 season with a 3.55 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 3.4 WAR, 10.65 strikeouts per nine and 1.55 walks per nine in 22 starts.
Buehler not ready to take staff ace title from Kershaw
As Kershaw enters the waning seasons of his career on a one-year contract that could potentially be his final season, Buehler is just entering his prime.
The 27-year-old right-hander has stepped up admirably during Kershaw’s recent injury-plagued seasons, which has caused many to give him the crown as the Dodgers’ ace.
However, Buehler isn’t ready to take that title yet, believing Kershaw is still the ace of the staff for as long as he’s wearing a Dodgers uniform
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