How Clayton Kershaw Gets in the Zone

Clayton Kershaw likes to work fast and control the tempo of the game, and his pregame routine is deliberate and predictable.

Clayton Kershaw likes to work fast and control the tempo of the game.

The Los Angeles Dodgers ace made quick work of the Colorado Rockies Wednesday night, throwing 107 pitches and recording a career-high 15 strikeouts en route to the first no-hitter of his Major League career.

This season, Kershaw is averaging 14.3 pitches per inning. From 2011-2013, he averaged 14.8 pitches per inning. However, as Buster Olney detailed in a preseason feature story for ESPN The Magazine, the fast-moving Kershaw is methodical with his pregame routine.

Olney wrote that Kershaw's routine is "so predictable, it's as if he's onstage, performing the same role again and again."

The following timetable shows how Kershaw gets in the zone in the hours before he takes the mound.

Five Hours Before First Pitch

Kershaw performs a Wall Drill, in which he uses what Olney describes as a "Kershaw-lite version of his mechanics," and "softly short-hops the ball against the base of the wall, catching the ricochet, over and over."

The drill helps Kershaw ease his pre-game jitters and allows him to get a feel for the ball while repeating his delivery.

Four Hours Before First Pitch

Kershaw joins his teammates in the clubhouse.

Olney: "The Dodgers will understand the dynamic in place: Kershaw, preparing to pitch, won't want to talk with them; he'll be locking in. But he'll listen to the banter, invested in the community. . . His silent presence will be part of the role that the two-time Cy Young winner plays, overseeing a team that is increasingly his own."

Three Hours Before First Pitch

Kershaw heads to the trainer's room—"game pants and spikes already on, laces untied," Olney reports—for a nap.

Seventy-Five Minutes Before First Pitch

Kershaw meets with catcher A.J. Ellis and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt to talk strategy for facing the opposing team's hitters.

Olney writes, "Kershaw will have done his own scouting, watching video of the [batters] against pitchers similar to him—Cliff Lee and Gio Gonzalez, for example, because Gonzalez relies on a fastball and curve, like Kershaw does, and Lee has his mechanics."

Exactly Thirty Minutes Before First Pitch

Kershaw long tosses across the outfield before heading to the bullpen to throw the same 34-pitch sequence he uses during bullpen sessions between his scheduled starts.

The 34-pitch sequence, Olney explains, is designed to reinforce Kershaw's command of pitch selection. The catcher Ellis does not offer signs during the bullpen sessions because the sequence of pitches has been ingrained. Here's the rundown:

  • 3 Fastballs (Catcher Standing)
  • 3 Fastballs (Middle)
  • 3 Fastballs (Either Side)
  • 3 Changeups (Away)
  • 1 Fastball (Inside)
  • 3 Curveballs (Middle)
  • 1 Fastball (Inside)
  • 3 Sliders (Middle)

(From the stretch position)

  • 2 Fastballs (Inside)
  • 2 Fastballs (Away)
  • 2 Changeups
  • 1 Fastball (Inside)
  • 2 Curveballs
  • 1 Fastball (Inside)
  • 2 Sliders

(From the windup)

  • 1 Fastball (Inside)
  • 1 Fastball (Away)

Eight minutes before the first pitch, Kershaw walks in from centerfield with his catcher at his side. Some three hours and 27 outs later, he rejoins his catcher on the mound to celebrate a historic milestone in his young professional career.

Learn how you can create your own pre-game routine.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock