When Josh Beckett explained over the weekend why Clayton Kershaw might be the best pitcher he has ever seen, he wasn't talking about the movement on Kershaw's fastball or break on his curveball.
Beckett marveled at what Kershaw showed Tuesday night in a 3-2 defeat to the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium — that is, his ability to compete when he wasn't at his best.
Kershaw had one of his worst starts of the season on this night. Beset by command problems, Kershaw lasted only 5 2/3 innings. He walked three and gave up seven hits. He threw 107 pitches. Still, the Dodgers had a chance to win, as Kershaw, striking out nine, limited the damage to two runs, one earned.
"You're never going to have your best stuff every game," said Kershaw (13-8), whose earned-run average stayed at 1.72. "You've got to figure out ways to get guys out regardless."
The Dodgers' inability to reverse the 2-0 deficit with which Kershaw left them pointed to what appears to be a growing problem: The Dodgers can't hit.
Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig combined for five hits. The rest of the team combined for two.
In the Dodgers' defense, the opposing starter was an All-Star: left-hander Travis Wood, who held the Dodgers to an unearned run and five hits over seven innings. He struck out six.
The Dodgers' inability to hit Wood highlighted a problem Manager Don Mattingly noticed over the weekend, when his team dropped two of three games to the Boston Red Sox and scored five runs.
"I feel like it's nothing more than a little lull," Mattingly said Tuesday. " I think we've got some guys that are a little tired."
The Dodgers didn't score until the sixth inning, when Ramirez singled, advanced to second when Wood made an errant throw attempting to pick him off, and went home on a single by Juan Uribe. That closed the gap to 2-1.
But the Cubs added a run in the seventh inning, loading the bases against Ronald Belisario and scoring when Brian Bogusevic grounded into a double play.
The run proved crucial, as Ramirez scored again in the eighth inning, this time on a hit by Andre Ethier.
This marked the 14th time in Kershaw's 24 starts in which the Dodgers scored two or fewer runs before the left-hander exited the game.
What Kershaw lacked in command on this night, he made up with tenacity.
The Cubs had men on first and second with one out in the first inning, but Kershaw struck out Donnie Murphy and Junior Lake to escape unscathed.
Kershaw couldn't prevent the Cubs from scoring in the third inning, as Dioner Navarro's single gave Chicago a 1-0 lead. The run was unearned, as Darwin Barney reached base on a catcher's interference call that was scored as an error by A.J. Ellis.
"This isn't what we've come to see as typical Clayton," Mattingly said. "He wasn't quite as sharp as he's been."
Twitter: @dylanohernandezCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun