Kershaw settles in in Australia

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SYDNEY -- The Los Angeles Dodgers pondered leaving Clayton Kershaw behind in Arizona when they jetted over to Australia for Opening Day. It might sound crazy, but they really did consider it.

They're trying to keep a handle on Kershaw's workload, and the trip, followed by a week off back home, would mess with his routine. A handful of the Dodgers' other star players, including Zack Greinke and Carl Crawford, stayed behind. The Dodgers left nearly as much payroll behind in the desert as the Arizona Diamondbacks brought with them, in fact.

But these games, despite the exotic backdrop, aren't subject to an exchange rate. When the wins and losses get added up to see which teams go to the playoffs, March 22 will carry exactly as much weight as Sept. 22.

And let the record show that Kershaw made his fourth straight Opening Day start and the Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks 3-1 on a gusty, festive night at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Kershaw hadn't exactly been starry-eyed about the trip when reporters asked him about it early in camp. He made it sound like something to be endured rather than savored, although he showed a tad more diplomacy than Greinke.

After you sign a seven-year, $215 million contract, teams typically will try to accommodate you, so even a grudging acceptance might have signaled trouble. But when Don Mattingly and Kershaw got around to discussing whether he'd pitch in Australia, the manager was pleasantly surprised.

"He was glad [to pitch]," Mattingly said.

There are plenty of reasons not to like Kershaw's new contract if you're prone to fret about long-term deals for pitchers -- and you're probably right to. For one, it's a lot of money. Secondly, pitchers get hurt. Thirdly, they lose their stuff. But the Dodgers knew enough about Kershaw to know there were plenty of things they didn't have to worry about.

You don't worry he'll get lazy. You don't worry he won't care. You don't worry he'll be selfish.

"He went into Donnie's office and said, 'I want the ball in Australia,'" catcher A.J. Ellis said. "That kind of speaks to his character, who he is as a teammate, who he is as a pitcher and a competitor."

Kershaw has had far more artful performances than Saturday night's. His counterpart, Wade Miley, had more strikeouts than he did. In his previous Opening Day start, Kershaw held the San Francisco Giants scoreless and broke a scoreless tie with a home run. But this one was fraught with certain annoyances, certain deviations that, in other circumstances, could have made for a difficult first start.

As the week went on, Kershaw and the rest of the team seemed to relax into the setting. They even (gasp!) had a little fun. On his 26th birthday, Kershaw got to hold a baby kangaroo. How cool is that?

Kershaw's focus can make him an intimidating presence on the mound, even to teammates. Saturday, he seemed to soak up the atmosphere once the win was in hand. He stood doing a TV interview in a cutoff T-shirt, shower shoes and basketball shorts, then high-fived the fans leaning into the tunnel as he jogged toward the clubhouse, grinning all the way.

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