GLENDALE, Ariz. (CBS / AP) ― Ask Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly about left-hander Clayton Kershaw, and he talks about a work ethic. It is always there. It was there even in Africa.
Kershaw took it with him to Zambia in January on a mission to build a school for orphans.
Kershaw, Mattingly’s starter for opening day on March 31 against the San Francisco Giants, packed a pitching backstop, balls and gloves so he could throw in Zambia when he and his wife, Ellen, weren’t busy with the bricks and mortar for a schoolhouse.
Kershaw returned ready for spring training, and with a perspective tempered by what he saw in people whom he said are motivated by what they can do instead of what they have.
In the 22-year-old Kershaw, Mattingly sees a young pitcher with an innate will to learn and win.
He “has the ability to be special,” said Mattingly.
Mattingly said his decision to go with Kershaw as the opening day starter was based strictly on what he has seen in the young pitcher’s stubborn work habits and competitiveness.
Kershaw’s confidence was evident, Mattingly said, when he showed up at spring training a few years ago when the Dodgers still worked in Vero Beach, Fla.
“This kid loves a challenge,” Mattingly said. “He won’t back down from anybody. You can see him improve from day to day to day.”
Mattingly also got a unique scouting report. Mattingly’s son, Preston, is one of Kershaw’s best friends. Preston Mattingly and Kershaw were roommates in the minor leagues. Preston was an usher at Kershaw’s wedding.
Don Mattingly and his son are “like twins,” said Kershaw, a 2006 first-round draft pick who is poised to become the youngest Dodger to start opening day since a 22-year-old Fernando Valenzuela did it in 1983.
“Father and son look like each other,” said Kershaw. “As far as personalities, they act the same. They’re both laid-back guys. They’re both super competitive. It’s great. I’m really looking forward to this season.”
It is a season that Kershaw, 13-10 with a 2.91 ERA and 212 strikeouts in 204 1/3 innings last year, figures to be the Dodgers ace, although Mattingly has yet to call him that.
“I like our pitching,” Mattingly said. “I don’t want to talk about just one guy.”
Neither does Kershaw, who like Mattingly foresees tough challenges, especially in a balanced NL West.
“At the end of the day, it’s always about what you do together as a team,” he said.
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