Clayton Kershaw has routinely mowed down baseball's best hitters since his arrival in the major leagues. His next start could prove to be one of his most challenging - but not because of the competition.
Kershaw will take the mound Friday night for the first time since the death of his father as the Los Angeles Dodgers meet the San Francisco Giants in the opener of a three-game set at AT&T Park.
Kershaw (3-2, 1.73 ERA) was placed on the team's bereavement list Monday as he traveled to his home state of Texas, but he plans be in San Francisco in time for Friday's game.
The left-hander has been dominant in 17 career starts against the Giants, going 9-4 with a 1.29 ERA. He's allowed a total of eight earned runs in his last nine, and pitched a four-hit shutout - while also homering for the game's first run - in a 4-0 opening day win.
Kershaw was dominant again in his latest start for the Dodgers (13-14), throwing eight innings of four-hit ball against the Brewers while striking out 12 in a 2-0 win Sunday. He also didn't issue a walk, a good sign after he gave up five earned runs and eight walks over 10 1-3 innings in his previous two outings.
"It was good to see Kershaw back to his old self," outfielder Carl Crawford said. "He struggled his last two outings, so to get him back on track is a plus for us."
Los Angeles could especially use another strong start from Kershaw as it struggles to find any consistency after splitting its last eight games. The Dodgers were let down Wednesday by Josh Beckett, who gave up five runs in four innings of a 7-3 home loss to the Rockies.
The Giants (16-12), meanwhile, have plenty to feel good about after a three-game road sweep of Arizona that ended a five-game skid. San Francisco trailed in all three contests, with a 9-6 win Wednesday marking the club's ninth come-from-behind victory already this season.
Brandon Belt homered twice in the series with six RBIs, while Pablo Sandoval has hit safely in five straight games while batting .522.
"These guys have been amazing with these comebacks," manager Bruce Bochy said. "They come through when we need them."
The Giants' rotation had a 5.06 ERA in its most recent turn, a stretch they'd like to forget about as they hand the ball to Barry Zito (3-1, 3.29). He has thrown seven scoreless innings in three of his five starts, but couldn't get past the fourth frame in his latest outing.
The left-hander pitched three spotless innings Saturday at San Diego before being charged with six runs - all but one unearned - in the next frame.
"He just couldn't get the last out in the fourth," Bochy said. "That's what killed us. He was cruising until then."
Zito went 3-2 with a 2.64 ERA against the Dodgers last season, posting a 1.93 ERA in three home outings. Matt Kemp went 4 for 8 in their matchups, though, and is a .436 lifetime hitter with three homers off Zito.
The only three Giants hitting better than .200 with more than six at-bats against Kershaw are Marco Scutaro (.357), Angel Pagan (.308) and Sandoval (.303). He's baffled Hunter Pence (1 for 26) and Buster Posey (6 for 36).