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The Washington Nationals got off to a fast start in their NLDS Game 2 victory, scoring three runs over the first two innings against Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and rarely appearing fooled in the process.
Now some curious baseball fans are searching for answers as to how Nationals hitters were able to get so comfortable, so quickly. And there’s one theory that has taken the clear lead.
Was Clayton Kershaw tipping his pitches?
It's possible, many keen viewers believe, that the Nationals spotted something in Kershaw’s delivery that tipped them off to which pitch was coming next.
Fabian Ardaya, who covers the Los Angeles Angels for The Athletic, was among those pushing the theory after spotting Nationals' lead-off hitter Trea Turner demonstrating what appeared to be Kershaw's pitching motion in the dugout.
Is Trea Turner explaining how Clayton Kershaw may be tipping his pitches? pic.twitter.com/oOjsKBhpoi
— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) October 5, 2019
To be clear, the suggestion is not that Washington was stealing signs. The thought is they were able to spot some of Kershaw’s tendencies before and during his pitches, and then exploited them when proven correct.
Seven of Washington's first 13 batters reached base in Friday’s 4-2 victory. Two of those batters reached after being hit by a pitch, so those might be less important to the story. On the other side, two of the outs recorded by Kershaw were given away by Washington on bunts.
Of the remaining nine batters he faced in the first two innings, the sequence was double, walk, single, pop out, strikeout, ground out, single, double and strikeout.
Though Kershaw appeared to settle down beginning in the third inning, the hard contact didn’t end there. Howie Kendrick just missed a home run and the exit velocity allowed by Kershaw remained abnormally high.
The Nationals haven't capitalized on every opportunity, but they're barreling up Clayton Kershaw tonight.
He allowed an average exit velocity this season of 87.2 mph. The Nationals, through three innings, are at 98.3 mph.
— Sam Fortier (@Sam4TR) October 5, 2019
That suggests it’s possible Washington had a good idea what was coming next more often than not over the first three innings.
To Kershaw’s credit, he did manage to limit the damage in the early going and eventually settled down by retiring nine of the final 11 batters he faced. Over his six frames, he allowed just those three early runs on six hits.
Clayton Kershaw’s response
Despite Kershaw’s improvement as the game went along, the speculation over whether he was tipping pitches continued to grow.
After the game, Kershaw was questioned about the possibility and offered a not surprisingly vague response.
Clayton Kershaw was asked about possible pitch tipping. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I’ll check it out.”
— J.P. Hoornstra (@jphoornstra) October 5, 2019
Kershaw’s not the type of guy to make excuses. Even if he knows or feels he was tipping pitches, it’s not something he’d likely admit. In fact, given how he improved in the middle innings, it’s possible he did know or did feel it and adjusted adequately enough to keep his team in the game.
Of course, some fans are just hanging their hat on the Clayton Kershaw is bad in the postseason narrative that’s followed him around for nearly a decade. To each their own. Everyone has to have to a reason to help everything make sense or fit their own narrative.
The only thing that matters now for Kershaw and the Dodgers is what happens moving forward. At this point, there is no guarantee Kershaw will pitch again this postseason. If he does, his performance will answer a lot of questions. More importantly, it will help determine the Dodgers’ postseason fate.
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