LOS ANGELES — There was talk (most of it from overly anxious Dodger fans) that his career was in decline.
The talk started in mid-April and picked up steam in May.
Over his last 13 starts, though, Clayton Kershaw has rocked all those whispers to sleep and, in his commanding yet polite way, put them to bed.
The Dodgers are 13-0 in Kershaw's last 13 outings.
On Sunday, throwing against Kansas City's Danny Duffy in the final game before the All-Star break, Kershaw again showed how absurd all those whispers were in the first place.
The left-handed ace struck out 13 in a complete game that needed just 99 of his pitches. He's now 14-2 on the season with a 2.18 ERA. He leads the major leagues in wins and innings pitched. He's second or third in the majors in just about every other major category as Washington's Max Scherzer and Boston's Chris Sale are also having spectacular seasons.
Kershaw has just been his typical self, quietly dominating the opposition while the Dodgers are turning into the best team in baseball.
Sunday's outing against the Royals was particularly special, though.
It was his first complete game of the year and it came with Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax, a dominant lefty in his own right, in attendance at Dodger Stadium.
"It's about time, it's been awhile," Kershaw said surrounded by media in the Dodgers' clubhouse when asked about the complete game. "It felt good to get out there and finish the game. Sandy was here today so I wanted to do it for him."
Kershaw has won three Cy Young Awards and a National League MVP in nine full seasons with Los Angeles. He could claim another Cy Young this season.
But after a few solid-but-not-Kershaw-like performances early in the season, some concern, no matter how unwarranted, started to spread.
In mid-May, Andy McCullough, the Dodgers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, was fielding questions on social media from fans wondering about the state of Kershaw.
Kershaw has given up a career-high 18 home runs already.
The ace gave up eight hits and four runs over six innings in his second start of the year, a 4-2 loss to the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
Kershaw then won his next three starts before giving up eight more hits and three earned runs, with a pair of home runs surrendered in six innings on May 1. The Dodgers lost to the rival San Francisco Giants 4-3 in that game, with Kershaw falling to 4-2.
But the Dodgers haven't lost one of his starts since, even in an outing where he surrendered 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings on May 28, also against the Cubs.
As it stands now, Kershaw hasn't lost since May 1 and is 7-0 in his last seven starts. His career WHIP is right at 0.99, the second-lowest ever behind Addie Joss, a man who has been dead for over 100 years.
Kershaw's dominance was on full display Sunday in the 5-2 win over the Royals. In one at-bat in particular, Kershaw showed how he completely overwhelms opponents.
In the top of the sixth inning, Royals infielder Ramon Torres showed bunt and then pulled the bat back on a 94 mph fastball for a called strike. Kershaw then dropped in a 74 mph curveball for strike two and struck Torres out swinging with a 94 mph fastball.
Three pitches and Torres didn't stand a chance.
Really, neither did the Royals' lineup, though Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer lifted a two-run home run to right, the only damage Kershaw allowed.
Hosmer walked the media through his approach against Kershaw after the game.
"I just tried to stay aggressive in the zone," Hosmer said. "Obviously he's a guy who has pretty good control over all his pitches. So the approach for me was to be ready to swing early, especially if he fell behind early in the count. You don't know what pitch it's going to be but you know it's going to be in the strike zone. You just gotta stay aggressive."
Now it seems the only thing that can cool Kershaw and the Dodgers off is the All-Star break. Because Kershaw started on Sunday, he will not pitch in the All-Star Game on Tuesday.
The Dodgers have won 20 of their last 23 games and have a 7 1/2-game lead over second-place Colorado in the NL West standings.
"Obviously, the way we're playing, it'd feel good to just keep going out there and winning games," Kershaw said Sunday. "But at the same time breaks are always great. Breaks are needed for us to rejuvenate for four days. I don't anticipate any rust for Friday's game."
The Dodgers pick back up on Friday, with a game at Miami, where the All-Star Game is also being played.