Clayton Kershaw sharp for Dodgers; Mookie Betts hurts finger

They were the two sights most noticeably absent in the season’s first nine games, the largest pieces missing in the Dodgers’ championship-aspiring puzzle.

Clayton Kershaw returned to the mound and Cody Bellinger returned to form Sunday, the left-handed pitcher spinning 5 2/3 sensational scoreless innings in his season debut while the left-handed slugger smacked his first home run in hopes of shaking off an early slump.

For a team as talent-rich as the Dodgers, who wrapped up a series win by knocking off the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-0 at Chase Field, two players can tip the scales only so much.

After all, they entered Sunday tied for first in the National League West even with Kershaw sidelined and Bellinger scuffling over the season’s first week and a half.

But there was something different about seeing the two gems sparkle, a reminder of how much brighter the Dodgers’ fortunes look when Kershaw and Bellinger — not to mention Mookie Betts, who also homered Sunday before leaving the game with a sore left middle finger — are at their best.

Bellinger produced the opening blow, belting a first-inning changeup into the right-field bullpen for a two-run home run. It was instant gratification for the reigning National League MVP, who spent a Saturday off day working on his swing amid a five-for-36 start at the plate.

Kershaw’s performance was even more auspicious. The 32-year-old showed no ill effects of the back stiffness that landed him on the injured list hours before last month’s season-opener. Instead, he served up a steady stream of fastballs that peaked at 93 mph (a velocity he never reached last season), sliders that produced four of his six strikeouts and curveballs that were hit poorly on the ground.

He retired the Diamondbacks in order his first time through the lineup and allowed just three singles overall. With runners on second and third and two outs in the fourth — the only real trouble he faced — he fanned Kole Calhoun in four pitches. And as he walked off the mound for the final time, his day ending after 81 pitches, the usually stoic three-time Cy Young Award winner even cracked a smile.

Another spotless performance from the bullpen followed, the unit’s fifth game this year of three or more scoreless innings. About the only negative for the Dodgers was Betts’ early exit.

Before splashing a fifth-inning solo home run into the Chase Field pool, the right fielder appeared to hurt his hand on an earlier pitch in the at-bat.

After rounding the bases, he and a trainer briefly went into the clubhouse. Betts returned to the field for the next two innings but was pinch-hit for to lead off the seventh.

The day belonged to the Dodgers, nonetheless, who celebrated in style a welcome back party for their veteran starting pitcher and potential coming-out party for their star center fielder.

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