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Clayton Kershaw reaches career milestone with 2,000 strikeouts

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For those who have gotten distracted by Chris Sale‘s remarkable strikeout streak or the one-two punch of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw is here to reclaim the spotlight. The Dodgers’ ace set down 14 strikeouts against the Brewers on Friday night, the fourth of which marked the 2,000th whiff of his 10-year career.

That’s spectacular for any pitcher, let alone one who is nine months shy of 30 years old. It’s fast, too — so fast, in fact, that Elias Sports Bureau lists only two major league hurlers who have recorded 2,000 strikeouts faster than Kershaw: Randy Johnson (1,734 innings) and Pedro Martinez (1,715 1/3 innings). By comparison, Kershaw did it in 1,836 innings.

Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts praised Kershaw’s precision and focus en route to the 2,000-strikeout record, while hinting that No. 3,000 might come even faster. Via MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick:

Not only does he care about the big picture, but he stays so micro-focused on today. When it’s all said and done, I’m sure 2,000 will be a lot closer to 3,000. He’s a great pitcher and for me to be a part of his journey is great.

Hitting that 3,000-mark might still be far off, but he’ll need just 214 more strikeouts to tie Sandy Koufax for third-most in franchise history and 696 to eclipse franchise strikeout leader Don Sutton.

If the southpaw hasn’t looked like his usual self lately, that’s partly because the bar is set so high. He’s coming down from a season in which he posted a 1.69 ERA, the lowest of his career, paired with an 0.7 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 over 149 innings. Through the first two months of the 2017 season, his 1.9 fWAR is the sixth-best among major league starters, while his 2.37 ERA (entering Friday’s game) ranks fourth alongside the White Sox’ Derek Holland.

Major League Baseball orders balls stored in climate controlled rooms for some reason

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Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated reports that Major League Baseball will mandate that teams store baseballs in “an air-conditioned and enclosed room[s]” this season. He adds that the league will install climate sensors in each room to measure temperature and humidity during the 2018 season, with such data being used to determine if humidors — like the ones being used in Colorado and Arizona — are necessary for 2019.

This move comes a year after Major League Baseball’s single season, league-wide home run record was shattered, with 6,105 dingers being hit. It also comes after a year in which two different studies — one by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman for The Ringer, and another by FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur — found evidence that baseballs were altered at some point around the middle of the 2015 season which coincided with home run numbers spiking in the middle of that year, quite suddenly.

Also coming last year: multiple player complaints about the baseball seeming different, with pitchers blaming a rash of blister problems stemming from what they believed to be lower seams on the baseballs currently in use than those in use in previous years. Players likewise complained about unusually smooth and/or juiced baseballs during the World Series, which some believe led to a spike of home runs in the Fall Classic.

To date, Major League Baseball has steadfastly denied that the balls are a problem, first issuing blatantly disingenuous denials,  and later using carefully chosen words to claim nothing was amiss. Specifically, Major League Baseball claimed that the balls were within league specifications but failed to acknowledge that league specifications are wide enough to encompass baseballs which could have radically different flight characteristics while still, technically, being within spec.

Based on Verducci’s report, it seems that MLB is at least past the denial stage and is attempting to understand and address the issues about which many players have complained and which have, without question, impacted offense in the game:

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that MLB commissioned a research project after last season to study the composition, storage and handling of the baseballs. He said that investigation is not yet completed. “I’m not at the point to jump that gun right now,” he said about the findings.

The investigation is not yet completed, but the fact that the league is now ordering changes in the manner in which balls are handled before use suggests to me that the league has learned that there is at least something amiss about the composition or manufacture of the baseballs.

Major League Baseball is a lot of things, but quick to impose costs and changes of process on its clubs like this is not one of them. There is likely a good reason for it.