As feats pile up, Kershaw-Koufax link clearer
Young lefty, a tireless worker, humbled by comparisons to Dodgers legend
LOS ANGELES -- Every scouting director sounds like he found the next Clayton Kershaw when talking about his latest first-round Draft pick.
Here's how Logan White sounded when he found the first Clayton Kershaw.
"I compare him to Dave Righetti," White said after making Kershaw the seventh overall pick in the 2006 Draft. "He throws from a high angle, has a power fastball, a good curveball and a feel for a changeup. He's got a natural delivery, and he's a great makeup kid."
Kershaw compared himself at the time to a lefty who, like him, became a two-time Cy Young Award winner.
"I try to pattern myself after Johan Santana of the Twins," Kershaw said then. "He's as close to a left-handed power pitcher as you can get."
Now, the only obvious comparison for Kershaw is the greatest Dodgers pitcher of all time, and possibly the greatest lefty of all time, Sandy Koufax, who had this to say Thursday. "I'm thrilled for him and [a no-hitter was] not unexpected," Koufax said. Even before his first no-hitter, thrown against the Rockies on Wednesday night, Kershaw reminded old-school baseball eyes of Dandy Sandy, who threw four of them, one a perfect game.
Joe Torre, a Koufax contemporary and friend, couldn't stop himself from making that comparison six years ago after Kershaw forced his way into his first big league training camp with a limited arsenal of devastating weapons.
"There was a left-handed pitcher in this organization with only a fastball and curve, and he was pretty good," said Torre. "But I don't want to put that kind of pressure on him."
"If you're going to get compared to somebody, that's the guy," Kershaw said when first linked to Koufax. "It's the biggest honor you can get. But I also take that with a grain of salt. In his prime, he was the best ever. I have to get a lot better to prove that right."
Among Kershaw's many amazing achievements is teaching himself a wipeout slider in 2010, while already in the Major Leagues.
But trumping everything else, Kershaw has somehow exceeded the stratospheric expectations that Hall of Famers like Torre and others set for him.
"I think the person inside just wants to keep getting better," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt has said of Kershaw's relentlessness. "You see it in the work ethic, the mental approach, day in and day out. It's like we tell the guys, and they can see it with him -- you get out what you put in. He's all in. He's that kind of guy. Very few can back it up every year, but he's prepared himself to leave it all on the field. It's human nature to be satisfied when you get to a certain point. What separates the great ones is that they aren't satisfied."
All-Star catcher Russell Martin saw it the first time he caught Kershaw in a Spring Training game and offered this scouting report:
"For the first time in a big league game -- wow. He's got just a heavy, heavy fastball and an easy delivery. He's very deceptive. His curveball, it just drops off the table. I think it's the best curveball I've ever caught, to be honest. He keeps the ball down. You can see he's a tremendous competitor, giving up a home run to the first batter, getting into a bases-loaded jam and bearing down to strike out two guys to get out of it. It's just how easy he throws. He's mechanically sound. I don't think he needs to learn anything mechanically. He looks polished. He wasn't holding anything back; he was just going after it. He's only 19. Man, that's impressive."
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has said that Kershaw comports himself like "a man on a mission." He's been on that mission at least since he was demoted to the Minor Leagues as a rookie in 2008 to work on his control.
"I was a little ticked off," Kershaw later said. "I got a little mad. It's completely healthy to be mad, as long as you take it the right way. I went home for two days. I got over it, went to Jacksonville and pitched."
Glenn Dishman, then the pitching coach at Double-A Jacksonville, called the demotion "a blessing."
"I saw even more determination in him when he came back," Dishman said. "He'd had a taste of the Major Leagues. He became a man on a mission."
Kershaw earned his second National League Cy Young Award before turning 26. Koufax won his second at 29. Kershaw has a $215 million contract, but Koufax never had one of those.
"There are very strong similarities between Clayton and Sandy," said Maury Wills, Koufax's former roommate, now working as a bunting instructor. "Clayton is quiet like Sandy, introverted, very polite and, of course, a great talent. It's almost like you want to see him get a little mean, like a [Don] Drysdale or a [Bob] Gibson, although Sandy proved you don't have to be mean to be a great pitcher."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.