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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Padres may have more interest in Dallas Keuchel than Bryce Harper

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An interesting tidbit today from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who noted that ongoing talks between agent Scott Boras and the Padres have focused more on starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel than slugger Bryce Harper. Earlier this week, there were conflicting reports on the Padres’ level of interest in Harper — MLB Network’s Jon Heyman heard the club had not ruled out another big signing after getting Manny Machado, while Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune talked to multiple sources who believed otherwise — but any agreement between the two is looking unlikelier by the day.

As for Keuchel, Rosenthal cautions that a potential deal is still a “longshot,” especially as the team has other, cheaper options in mind. The 31-year-old southpaw turned down a qualifying offer from the Astros last year and is likely angling for something north of the five-year, $90 million contract extension he rejected from the club in 2016. He’s coming off of another solid performance in Houston, where he went 12-11 in 34 starts with a 3.74 ERA, 2.6 BB/9, 6.7 SO/9, and 3.6 fWAR through 204 2/3 innings in 2018.

While Keuchel has failed to garner substantial interest around the league this offseason, Heyman points out that the Phillies are looking to establish themselves as frontrunners for the lefty — and they’re far less likely to have hang-ups about his asking price, too.