SAN DIEGO — It’s almost as if Clayton Kershaw hadn’t been away at all.
The Los Angeles ace was sharp in his first start in five weeks, holding the San Diego Padres to two infield singles in six innings in a 1-0 victory Friday night that snapped the Dodgers’ season-high five-game losing streak.
Kershaw (16-2) hadn’t started since July 23, when he was pulled after two innings with a strained lower back that landed him on the disabled list.
"Efficiency-wise I think it was as good as I could have expected," said Kershaw, who was targeted for five innings or 75 pitches, and threw 70. "I really didn’t pitch any differently. I was throwing early strikes where they had to swing the bat."
The lefty struck out seven and walked none. The only hits he allowed were Manuel Margot’s soft grounder to second opening the first and Yangervis Solarte’s grounder to short opening the fifth.
Was he surprised?
"You never truly really know until you get back on a big-league mound and get big-league hitters out," he said.
Remarkably, the Padres didn’t hit a single ball to the outfield. Three relievers each threw a perfect inning, with Kenley Jansen pitching the ninth for his 36th save. Brandon Morrow struck out the side in the seventh.
Kershaw improved to 3-0 against San Diego this season and 17-6 lifetime. He’s won a career-high 12 straight decisions, the longest active streak in the majors. He hasn’t lost since May 1.
"I didn’t expect him to be that sharp, quite honestly, but with him, you can never underestimate him," manager Dave Roberts said. "The sharpness of all his pitches, fastball both sides of the plate, slider, introducing the curveball early, he was on point. Competitive, obviously, efficient."
Kershaw felt he could have returned two weeks ago, but Roberts said the team "slow-played things. We were very conservative. The effort level, the adrenaline, the way we made him reach all those markers, we expected him to be like this."
The Dodgers, who have MLB’s best record at 92-41, snapped their longest losing streak since April 2016.
"It’s nice to shake hands," Roberts said.
San Diego rookie Dinelson Lamet (7-6) pitched well, other than giving up three singles in the sixth, when the Dodgers scored the game’s only run. He allowed one run and six hits in six innings while striking out 10 and walking three.
Lamet allowed singles to Justin Turner and rookie Cody Bellinger opening the inning and retired the next two batters before Chase Utley hit an RBI single to centre.
"I think for the long term it’s exciting," San Diego manager Andy Green said about Lamet. "You lose a game short term, but to see somebody square off against Clayton Kershaw, and for the most part match him, you can’t ask for anything more from him. One pitch to Utley that he hits into centre field there, and outside of that he was really good today. So we’re pleased with that."
Lamet said it was "a pleasure" to face Kershaw. "It definitely motivated me. I knew that I was going to have to give my best effort and knew he was going to make pitches so I had to do the same," he said through a translator.
"It’s something that I was preparing, leading up to this game. Once I knew I was going to face the Dodgers and against a lineup with a lot of lefties, and there have been moments where I’ve had a few struggles against lefties, so I knew I needed to bear down and focus on that and really focus on getting guys out early in the count."
Turner had three hits.
Dodgers: SS Corey Seager didn’t play due to a sore right elbow
Dodgers: The teams will play a doubleheader Saturday as the result of a rainout on May 7. L.A.’s scheduled starters are RHP Brock Stewart (0-0, 3.38), who will be recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City, and RHP Yu Darvish (2-1, 3.13)
Padres: LHP Clayton Richard (6-13, 4.96) and RHP Jordan Lyles (0-2, 6.94) are San Diego’s scheduled starters.