SYDNEY (Reuters) - Pitcher Clayton Kershaw showed his value to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the major league season-opener on Saturday but manager Don Mattingly thinks his true worth will only be evident later in the campaign.
Kershaw's newly-inked $200 million contract meant he was always going to be the face of the two-game series between the Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks and he delivered in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).
The double Cy Young award winner, who was a babe in arms the last time the Dodgers went to the Fall Classic, crafted the win in a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers' National League West rivals in front of a crowd of 38,266 enthusiastic Australians.
With 161 more games remaining to play even before the playoffs are factored in, though, Mattingly was quick to remind reporters that the baseball season is very much more of a marathon than a sprint.
"You have to stay with us for a while to understand the importance of Clayton because every five days you get a good outing," he said of the 26-year-old Texan.
"There's times when you've won the first couple of games in a series and you've got Clayton going in the third, or you've split the first two and you've got Clayton going in the last game, that gives you a good shot at winning a series."
Kershaw spoke of his relief at getting his first win of the year after going 0-3 in spring training, particularly after a nervous start in the first inning when he had runners on second and third.
"It felt good to get out of that inning, kind of get the nerves behind you," he said.
"That first inning of the first game of the new season, feels good to get that one under your belt without giving up a run."
With the Dodgers spending big this year in a bid to reach the World series for the first time since 1988, Mattingly was moved to remind reporters that you need more than one pitcher to create a successful ballclub.
"(Clayton)'s a guy that's always ready but we've got a few more of those as well," he added.
"You start getting into Zack (Greinke) and (Ryu) Hyun-jin and other guys that we've got, you feel like you've got a chance of winning every day."
While Greinke is injured, Korean Ryu gets his chance to shine in the second and final game in Australia on Sunday and Diamondbacks coach Kirk Gibson for one sounded happy not to be facing Kershaw again.
"Kershaw did a good job in keeping us in the middle of the diamond. He threw a good ball game against us," he said.
"He's thrown good games against us. We know they're always going to be close games."
Editing by Ed Osmond