Clayton Kershaw was a bit player for the Los Angeles Dodgers last year in the National League Championship Series, pitching two innings in relief.
LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw was a bit player for the Los Angeles Dodgers last year in the National League Championship Series, pitching two innings in relief.
Randy Wolf wasn't even a Dodger, having finished a .500 season split between the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres.
Now they enter stage left for the Dodgers in their NLCS rematch with the Philadelphia Phillies.
The left-handed starters — along with left-handed relievers George Sherrill and Hong-Chih Kuo — are being counted on to stifle the big left-handed bats of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez, who combined for 110 home runs and 327 RBIs during the regular season.
"They're pretty scary," Dodger Manager Joe Torre, whose team lost in five games to the Phillies in the 2008 NLCS, said Tuesday. "I don't think you can have too many left-handers. ... If I had a choice of lefty-righty against that part of the order, I think you go lefty."
The Dodgers, who didn't use one left-handed starter against the Phillies in last year's series, are expected to pitch Wolf on Thursday evening at Dodger Stadium in Game 1. The veteran has had success against the Phillies' middle-of-the-order hitters in his career, holding Howard to one hit in nine at-bats and Utley to one hit in eight at-bats. Neither player has homered off Wolf.
But Philadelphia's lineup managed to inflict enough damage to split the two games Wolf started against the Phillies in the regular season; he gave up 11 hits and seven runs in 12 1/3 innings.
"Philly obviously has their offense, which is very strong," Wolf said after the Dodgers polished off the St. Louis Cardinals in three games in the NL division series. "We have to be ready."
Kershaw could pitch in Game 2 or Game 3, depending on how Torre decides to align his rotation if Hiroki Kuroda returns from a bulging disk in his neck that kept him out of the division series. Kershaw has limited Howard to one hit in eight at-bats, though Utley has hit .300 with a home run in 10 at-bats against the left-hander.
The 21-year-old Kershaw struggled against Philadelphia in the regular season, going 0-2 with a 5.23 ERA in two starts. But he has had plenty of success against left-handed hitters this season, holding them to a .173 average.
The Dodgers' bullpen is also better equipped to face left-handed hitters than it was last season with the late-season acquisition of setup man Sherrill and the continued late-inning success of Kuo.
"Chances are in the seventh or eighth" inning, Torre said, "if we have a lead, one of those left-handers will go through that group. It's good for us that we have the two quality setup guys that we do have in that situation."
Kuo faced the Phillies in three games during the NLCS last season, pitching a scoreless inning twice and giving up one run during the Dodgers' 7-5 loss in Game 4.
Continually facing left-handed pitchers will make Philadelphia switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino spend much of the series batting right-handed. Rollins is hitting only .230 right-handed compared to .257 left-handed, and Victorino has hit only two of his 10 home runs from the right side.
Nevertheless, General Manager Ned Colletti said the Phillies have displayed enough balance in their batting order to thrive against left-handers and right-handers.
"Obviously, this is a very good team," Colletti said. "They're World Series champions. They have great hitters from the right side and the left side. We'll see how it changes it, if it changes it."
Said Torre: "Hopefully it works out for us. But again, we have to pitch. These guys have faced a lot of left-handers and have done some damage against left-handers."