LOS ANGELES >> Brandon McCarthy is all too familiar with the process of being injured, rehabilitating and returning to action.
But when his elbow gave out 14 months ago, he said the fear entered his mind “that it could have very well been my last pitches.”
McCarthy returned to a major-league mound Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium and pitched five scoreless innings as the Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies with a 4-1 victory.
McCarthy struck out eight in his five innings including the first batter he faced since April 25, 2015.
“The first strikeout, I was like, ‘OK, at least, if nothing else, I didn’t end my career with a home run to Justin Upton,’” said McCarthy who gave up a three-run homer to Upton in San Diego before leaving his last game with a torn ulnar collateral ligament that had to be repaired by Tommy John surgery.
“That was the first thing I thought of. But other than that, it became business as usual.”
The dominant performance by a Dodgers starter has become business as usual at a very unexpected time. Since learning on Thursday that Clayton Kershaw would be sidelined indefinitely with a back injury, the Dodgers have won four consecutive games. Their starting pitchers in those games — Kenta Maeda, Bud Norris, Scott Kazmir and McCarthy — allowed only one run (in the first inning of Maeda’s start in Milwaukee on Thursday) on 10 hits in 23 innings.
“I think Kersh would tell you everyone is the same in here,” Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson said. “Obviously, he’s not. He’s the best player in baseball, in my opinion. But you can’t try to make it all up. You can’t replace Clayton Kershaw. Everyone just has to do a little more.
“We’ve just got to take it one game at a time. I think that’s the approach we’ve been taking the last few days.”
It’s an approach that left the Colorado Rockies stone cold. They managed just two runs and 12 hits in the three-game series at Dodger Stadium, striking out 41 times in the 27 innings. It was only the seventh time in franchise history they’ve been held to only two runs in a three-game series and the 12 hits were the second-fewest in those games.
“All the guys, they’ve really taken it and embraced it and really stepped up,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the pitching performance in the Kershaw-less stretch. “Results withstanding, there was no panic. There was no people in the clubhouse feeling sorry for themselves.
“The wins are maybe a coincidence. But I think the intent to play hard and pitch well and play well — there was a purpose behind it. Four in a row since Clayton — but we understand there’s a lot of slack that we have to pick up and keep going.”
McCarthy’s return is a step in the right direction. He retired 15 of the 18 batters he faced, allowing a pair of singles and walking one. None of the baserunners advanced beyond first. His eight strikeouts included the final three batters he faced before being pulled from the game. McCarthy threw 72 pitches, matching his highest total from the four minor-league injury-rehabilitation assignment starts he made before rejoining the Dodgers.
“This was as good as I’ve seen him in years past. This rivaled it, really,” Roberts said. “The fastball had late life, threw the breaking ball when he needed to, mixed in a couple changeups. Eight punch outs in five innings — he just kind of continued what our starters have done this entire series.
“Drove in a run too.”
That came on a bases-loaded walk in the Dodgers’ three-run second inning. Rockies starter Jon Gray gave up a leadoff home run to Thompson (his 13th) and the next four Dodgers failed to put a ball in play — Gray hit Howie Kendrick with a pitch then walked three straight, including McCarthy. Justin Turner’s two-out RBI single cashed in another run.
“He was definitely better than I expected,” said Grandal, who added a solo home run in the seventh inning. “I’ve caught guys that came out of Tommy John surgery in that first start, it doesn’t really go quite as well as they want. I was surprised by the fact that his secondary pitches and velocity were there. I mean, 94 (mph), might have touched 95 and pretty much stayed there — very surprised to see that.
“It seemed like he didn’t miss a step from last year. … It was a good time to step up.”
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