The NL West leaders need to get another victory with their ace on the mound Thursday to avoid being swept again in Oakland by the suddenly surging Athletics.
Kershaw (5-3, 2.86 ERA) picked up right where he left off from a year ago for the Dodgers (42-27) by opening this season 4-1 with a 1.90 ERA through nine outings. The last few weeks haven't gone quite as smoothly, however, with the left-hander recording a 5.26 ERA in his last four starts.
He has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, but insists it isn't affecting his performance.
"Baseball goes in cycles and it has its ups and downs," Kershaw said after a shaky performance against the Chicago White Sox on Friday. "I mean, this game's not easy. Just because you had a couple of good starts, this game will continue to humble you. So you've just got to keep battling and competing."
He speaks from experience.
En route to winning the NL's top pitching honor last year, he allowed at least six runs three times during a six-start stretch between June and July.
Despite his recent subpar patch, the Dodgers have still won the last three games he's started. After Kershaw allowed five runs, eight hits and two walks in six innings last week, Los Angeles rallied for a 7-6 victory over the White Sox.
Although the Dodgers are hopeful Kershaw can return to his elite form, their offense also needs to show some signs of life to salvage the finale.
After Brandon McCarthy and a pair of relievers combined on a two-hitter in Oakland's 3-0 win in the series opener, Tommy Milone tossed a three-hitter for his first career complete game in sending Los Angeles to a 4-1 defeat Wednesday.
"It's baseball man, you can't hit all the time," said Jerry Hairston Jr., who had an infield single Wednesday.
If the Dodgers are unable to get anything going Thursday against scheduled starter Travis Blackley (1-2, 3.76), they'll be in danger of falling to 2-12 all-time in the regular season at Oakland.
The A's (33-36) have won six of their last seven at the Coliseum and seven of eight overall, with plenty of help from Brandon Moss . The newcomer has six homers and 11 RBIs in the last eight contests, including a solo shot Wednesday.
The lineup received another boost Wednesday with the return of Yoenis Cespedes , who went 2 for 4 with a double and a run-scoring single after sitting out nine of the previous 10 games with a strained left hamstring.
"Every at-bat was good," manager Bob Melvin said of Cespedes, who is batting .462 with six RBIs and six runs in his last eight contests. "Boy he was on it. It was pretty impressive to see."
Blackley allowed two runs and five hits in six innings of Friday's 10-2 win over San Diego to earn his first win since July 1, 2004, when he made his major league debut with Seattle.
"You can't go that long without realizing where you're at with the wins," said the lefty, who appeared in 17 games between victories.
Blackley made two relief appearances against the Dodgers in May while pitching for San Francisco, yielding five runs in two innings of work.
Kershaw made his only career start against the Athletics on June 16, 2009, permitting four hits while striking out eight in 5 2-3 shutout innings.
|Los Angeles Dodgers|
|June 03, 2012||Javy Guerra||15-Day DL||Right knee inflammation|
|May 31, 2012||Matt Kemp||15-Day DL||Re-aggravated strained left hamstring|
|May 30, 2012||Matt Kemp||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left hamstring|
|May 24, 2012||Ted Lilly||15-Day DL||Left shoulder inflammation|
|May 23, 2012||Justin Sellers||15-Day DL||Bulging disc in lower back|
|May 19, 2012||Mark Ellis||15-Day DL||Sprained left knee|
|June 17, 2012||Bartolo Colon||Day-to-Day||Strained right oblique|
|June 13, 2012||Yoenis Cespedes||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left hamstring|
|June 06, 2012||Andrew Carignan||60-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|June 02, 2012||Jemile Weeks||Day-to-Day||Mild hip strain|
|May 31, 2012||Jordan Norberto||15-Day DL||Strained left shoulder|
|May 18, 2012||Brandon McCarthy||15-Day DL||Strained right shoulder|
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- His tender left hand and sore left hamstring both on ice after a big day, Yoenis Cespedes shared how he reminded himself to keep the celebration to a minimum. Just a standard jump for joy at home plate, nothing fancy that could lead to further injuries.
"No chance," he said with a smile, in perfect English.
The rookie Cuban slugger hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning for his first career game-ending shot, lifting the Oakland Athletics to a 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday to complete their first home sweep of 2012.
Cespedes connected with no outs off Josh Lindblom (2-1), sending a drive just inside the left-field foul pole. This marked just his second game back in the starting lineup after he had just one at-bat the previous 10 games because of the hamstring injury.
"I knew it was in fair territory, but I didn't know it would be a home run," Cespedes said. "I'm very happy. My teammates said, `You always do so much, you've hit key home runs to put us ahead, but you still need a walkoff."'
Oakland won for the eighth time in nine games after holding the NL's best team to eight total hits in the three-game series.
Starters Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Travis Blackley each excelled. They both allowed one run on just three hits in eight innings. Blackley walked none and struck out six while the NL Cy Young winner fanned seven and walked two.
Coco Crisp drew a leadoff walk from Lindblom in the ninth and advanced on a wild pitch. Crisp moved to third on Jemile Weeks ' infield single on which Lindblom fielded the ball and looked to third and then first but didn't make a throw.
"In that situation they had the momentum on their side," Lindblom said. "Coming in at the start of an inning and walking the leadoff guy is unacceptable, especially in a tie game."
Cespedes then hit his seventh home run of the season and the A's won their sixth in a row at home in the series with L.A. The Dodgers don't have a victory here since 2001 and are 2-12 overall at the Oakland Coliseum since 1997.
Ryan Cook (2-1) relieved Blackley in the ninth. Ninth-place batter Matt Treanor drew a walk, Dee Gordon bunted into a forceout on which third baseman Brandon Inge fired to second and then the Dodgers speedster was caught stealing on an outstanding throw by new A's catcher Derek Norris in his major league debut.
Even Inge's teammates doubted he could make the play at second.
"Yeah, it's a tough play," Inge said. "Looking back on it, I'm glad it worked out. Kind of a risky play."
The Dodgers were swept for just the second time this season. They dropped four in a row to Milwaukee at home in late May.
Inge had a sacrifice fly in the second as Oakland took an early lead, then Juan Rivera hit a tying RBI single in the fourth. That was all the Dodgers could muster for Kershaw, who is pitching with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
"It's fun to win, it's fun to pitch well," Kershaw said. "When you're not winning, or not pitching up to expectations there's a little frustration. It's frustrating when you're trying to keep the team in the game."
Blackley retired the first 10 batters before Elian Herrera 's one-out double in the fourth.
Blackley faced only one three-ball count all afternoon, and this was his deepest outing. The Australian left-hander made his fifth start since being claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants on May 15.
Norris was called up from Triple-A Sacramento before the game to share the catching duties with Kurt Suzuki . Norris came to the A's in the trade last December that sent All-Star lefty Gio Gonzalez to Washington.
"It couldn't have ended better," said Norris, stuck in traffic for two hours early Thursday on the 80-mile drive from Sacramento.
Crisp's franchise record streak of 36 successful steals ended when he was thrown out at second in the first inning.
NOTES: A's manager Bob Melvin will continue to use Cespedes as designated hitter until he is fully healthy from the hamstring and ready to return to his usual outfield spot. ... Mired in an 0-for-19 funk, Oakland's Josh Reddick had the day off. ... The A's will face two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum (2-8) in Friday night's opener to the second interleague edition of the Bay Bridge Series. The Giants ace hasn't won since April 28 against San Diego, going 0-6 with a 6.44 ERA during his drought. ... RHP Chad Billingsley (4-5) pitches for the Dodgers in the Freeway Series at Anaheim on Friday night against Angels RHP Dan Haren (4-7).