Having Clayton Kershaw take the mound for the Chattanooga Lookouts is not a common occurrence at AT&T Field, so Lookouts manager Razor Shines realizes his players may be full of admiration tonight.
"The players? Heck, I'll be in awe," Shines said. "This guy is probably the best pitcher in baseball, and I will be excited to see him work myself."
A second rehab appearance was not the desired scenario for the two-time Cy Young Award winner, who was ready to return to the Los Angeles Dodgers after last Friday's performance with Rancho Cucamonga in the high Single-A California League. The 26-year-old left-hander allowed just two hits in five innings, but Dodgers officials had scheduled a couple of rehab stints and did not alter plans despite Kershaw's stellar showing.
So Chattanooga inherits an evening with a pitcher with the lowest career earned run average (2.59) in 100 or more starts since the start of baseball's live-ball era in 1920, and that's quite the example from which to learn.
"This will be a great experience, because you're talking about a Cy Young winner and a potential MVP guy coming in here," Lookouts catcher Chris O'Brien said. "All you can do is learn, so I think the biggest thing will be asking him questions. He might get annoyed by some of the questions, but there is so much knowledge you can gain from someone like that that you can't get anywhere else."
O'Brien said he and fellow catcher J.C. Boscan likely would lobby Shines for the opportunity to catch Kershaw, who is 52-23 with a 2.20 ERA since the start of the 2011 season. Each of them caught Kershaw several weeks ago during some bullpen sessions in spring training.
"He doesn't take any pitches off, and he has such a focus," O'Brien said. "What he does is so precise, and you can't help but want to catch him. It's a lot of fun."
Said Shines: "He is going to come in here with a plan, and he's going to prepare to work. For the kids to see his preparation, I think, will do wonders."
Kershaw, who could throw as many as 80 pitches against the Tennessee Smokies, will arrive tonight with a different pay grade than his teammates. He will not, however, try to stand out when he's not on the mound, according to those who have worked with him in the past.
"He's a down-to-earth, real guy," Lookouts pitching coach Scott Radinsky said, "and if he came in the clubhouse right now, he would start playing some pingpong and just be one of the guys. It's definitely a positive or an asset when you have a guy like that, and these guys can surround themselves around him.
"It's not that he'll outwardly say anything that's groundbreaking, but they can just watch how he prepares for a game and what he does. They will see that he just has fun, and I think that may help them not take things so seriously at times or put so much pressure on themselves."
Lookouts general manager Rich Mozingo said late Tuesday that more than 1,000 tickets remain for tonight's game at the 6,340-seat facility. Mozingo urges fans to get to the game early to avoid congestion problems around the ballpark.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.