Is Kershaw ready to take the next step?

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kershaw-clayton-100328.jpgVicente Padilla has been named the Opening Day starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that right-thinking baseball fans expect that it will be Clayton Kershaw who assumes the mantle of ace. The early evidence certainly is pointing in that direction.

The 22-year-old left-hander dominated the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, striking out seven while allowing one run in six innings. And he did it without having command of his curveball, relying instead of his fastball, plus two recently added tricks up his sleeve: Mr. Slider and Mr. Changeup.

From Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times:

According to a chart kept by pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, Kershaw threw seven of eight changeups for strikes and recorded three outs with the pitch. Seven of his nine sliders were thrown for strikes.

Relying on the two relatively new weapons in his arsenal, Kershaw was able to bide time until his curveball started dropping into strike zone.

Kershaw’s spring ERA sits at a nifty 1.69. And that comes on the heels of his 2010 campaign in which he was only 8-8, but with a 2.79 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 171 innings.

The potential has always been there, enticing and sometimes dazzling. Is this the year he takes the next step? The signs are certainly promising. Now, if he can just be a little more efficient …

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Video: Ketel Marte hits an inside-the-park home run

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Braves starter Aaron Blair had a nightmarish bottom of the third inning on Wednesday afternoon against the Diamondbacks. He had just given up a run on a Daniel Descalso triple hit to center field that center fielder Ender Inciarte read poorly. In the following at-bat, Ketel Marte laced a curve ball to right field. Sean Rodriguez wasn’t able to get to it in time, so the ball bounced off the fence and caromed back towards the stands along the right field line. By the time Rodriguez was able to retrieve the ball, Marte was already on his way home and scored standing up.

The inside-the-park homer will certainly provide a boost to Marte’s stats. He entered Wednesday’s action batting .196/.255/.370 in 51 plate appearances.

Video: Rafael Devers homers for his first major league hit

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Red Sox third base prospect Rafael Devers notched his first major league hit in style on Wednesday afternoon against the Mariners. The 20-year-old smashed a solo home run to straightaway center field, padding his team’s lead to 2-0 in the third inning.

Per MLB’s Stat of the Day Twitter account, Devers is currently the youngest player in baseball at 20 years and 275 days. He went 0-for-4 with a pair of walks and a run scored in Tuesday’s 13-inning loss to the Mariners.