Commentary

Grey's Clipboard: Kershaw getting arsenal under control

Updated: March 11, 2009, 4:41 PM ET
By Jason Grey | ESPN.com

When you are a talented pitcher who will turn 21 in two weeks and will enter your first full season in the big leagues with more than 100 innings already under your belt, you're expected to step up your game.

Fortunately for Clayton Kershaw, preliminary indications are he's on track to do that.

Although I didn't attend his first spring outing (inexplicably choosing a Barry Zito-Carlos Silva matchup instead), I talked with two other scouts who saw many positives in Kershaw's short stint.

Clayton Kershaw
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonClayton Kershaw issued 52 free passes in 107 1/3 big league innings last season.

Any time we talk about spring performance this early in March, I must state the obvious: It is still very, very early, and we definitely do not want to get too excited or too concerned about anyone's performance. Hitters are still finding the timing of their swings in game situations. Pitchers' velocities may not be all the way there, and many times they are not throwing all their offerings.

With that in mind, one scout spoke specifically about Kershaw's "improved command potential" this season. He thinks the Dodgers may have tweaked how upright Kershaw is in his delivery, and that may help him be more consistent with his location.

"His line to the plate was good, and he wasn't overthrowing," this particular scout said.

Kershaw threw comfortably at 90-93 mph. Although his vaunted curveball was inconsistent, as he "wasn't getting on top of it," in the words of another scout, he snapped off a couple of good ones. Really, that's all you should look for in a pitcher's first spring outing.

Nobody questions the southpaw's talent, but what will determine his progress are how well his command and control improve this season. Considering he's being drafted in many fantasy leagues later than among the top 50 starting pitchers, his upside is well worth the risk. We can reasonably expect an ERA a shade under 4, a lot of strikeouts and a WHIP in the 1.3 range.

•One thing I noticed when watching the Giants last week was the apparent improved conditioning of a couple of their pitchers. I am aware as much as anyone of how things like that can be interpreted as just part of the usual spring "noise," and might not be very meaningful. However, I do think it's worth mentioning that Matt Cain looks noticeably trimmer and fitter.

Cain has never been known as a workout warrior but reportedly got serious about his offseason training, working a lot with Brian Wilson, a guy who is serious about the weight room. Cain has been a very solid, consistent pitcher the past few seasons but hasn't taken that small next step up that people have been expecting. He's only 24 years old, and a fitter frame might help him improve and might not be just the usual camp chatter.

•Zito also looks a little more fit and cut, as he worked out with his teammates this past offseason. If he shows later in the spring that he can consistently bring a high-80s fastball, as he flashed in September, we might need to talk about him some more.

Dana Eveland and Manny Parra, two sleeper lefties this season, squared off against each other last week. Parra looked solid for the first start of spring training, although it's especially tough to get a read on a pitcher like him because he works with five different pitches (fastball, slider, curve, change and split). You just can't get the whole Parra experience in a short outing.

Eveland, on the other hand, was very efficient, needing just 12 pitches to get through two perfect innings, recording five ground-ball outs and a three-pitch strikeout. That's exactly the recipe he needs to follow. If he continues to trust his stuff and finds some more consistent control, he could surprise.

• Bet on Joey Devine as your horse in the A's closing derby if you haven't already. Brad Ziegler is still showing off the sink on his fastball and that nasty slider against right-handed batters, but I still don't see the pitch that will consistently work against lefties. His changeup just isn't there yet. Last year, left-handed hitters batted .280 and slugged almost 200 points higher than righties. whom he held to a .198 average and .236 slugging percentage, and he walked more of them than he struck out. The bottom line is Devine should be going a bit higher in drafts than he has been.

By the way, the A's will give 27-year-old Jerome Williams a look for their fifth-starter job. He was once a highly regarded prospect before injuries took their toll.

• Barring any further free-agent additions, the Giants may settle on Travis Ishikawa as their starting first baseman, with Pablo Sandoval manning the hot corner. Kevin Frandsen has the inside track on the second-base job, but he could platoon with Manny Burriss. The Giants ran out their projected Opening Day lineup a couple of times last week.

Talking with manager Bruce Bochy, he mentioned it was reasonably safe to assume that Eugenio Velez will hold a utility role in both the infield and outfield, rather than as a starter at second base.

More from Grey

Jason Grey is on location at spring training in Arizona. To see his scouting reports on Carlos Zambrano, Dan Haren and Jeff Samardzija and the latest on the Seattle Mariners' closer race, log in to ESPN Insider. Insider

• Outfielder Andre Ethier is falling further than he should in most drafts. Yes, Manny Ramirez was around when he had a monstrous second half last year (and may be once again when all is said and done), but many studies have shown that the concept of lineup protection is way overstated, or at the very least a negligible factor. The fact remains that Ethier was an impressive hitter and thus far has been picking up right where he left off. If he makes even some marginal improvements against left-handed pitching, his numbers could improve even more this season.

Carlos Zambrano and Dan Haren looked efficient and in midseason form in their spring outings Monday.

Each pitched two innings. Zambrano's fastball easily was sitting at 93-94 mph at this early stage, and he threw a couple of good low-70s curves. He was throwing strikes and didn't have to get too deep into his repertoire.


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