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Comparisons inevitable as Koufax, Kershaw rub elbows at camp

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Almost since the day he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw has had to live with comparisons to another great left-hander who wore the Dodgers uniform.

Kershaw accepts the comparisons to iconic Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax as "awesome" flattery. But Koufax says the same thing about the now two-time National League Cy Young Award winner.

"When it's over, it'll be a big honor (for me)," the Hall of Fame left-hander joked Monday as he joined the Dodgers' spring camp for a few days.

"He's going to have to deal with (being the standard other pitchers are compared to) later."

Koufax has agreed to spend some time with the Dodgers in spring training for the second consecutive year. He is taking an even more low-key approach this year, opting for cargo shorts and a polo shirt instead of putting a uniform on again.

"He doesn't want to be a distraction in any way," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "If Sandy wants to get in uniform and go out there, he can. If he doesn't want to, he doesn't have to. We're just really happy he's around and part of us."

Koufax said his role as special adviser to team Chairman Mark Walter has been "fun." A year ago, he agreed to do it on a trial basis.

"A lot of times I'll just talk to (pitching coach) Rick Honeycutt about what's happening or (assistant pitching coach) Kenny Howell," said Koufax, 78. "If Rick wants me to talk to somebody, I will, or if somebody asks me to.

"Basically, I'm just suggesting on a lot of things. I don't have all the answers. And I know it."

Koufax's preference for a quiet, private life in retirement is well known -- and set aside during the week or so he will spend at Camelback Ranch. His arrival sparked a stampede of fans and security personnel were needed to quell aggressive autograph seekers.

That made it even more meaningful when Koufax stepped into the spotlight this winter as well. He attended the BBWAA awards dinner in New York last month to present Kershaw with his 2013 NL Cy Young award.

"He's just a very special person -- a special pitcher, special person," Koufax said of the Dodgers' ace. "I've had an opportunity to watch him since he started. That was just something I felt I wanted to do.

"When I was introduced (at the awards dinner), they introduced me by saying I was going to introduce my 'protege.' So I started off right away by saying he's not my protege; he's his own person."

Koufax was asked what adjustments Kershaw might need to make this year to continue his success.

A three-time NL Cy Young Award winner who was forced to retire at 30 because of chronic elbow problems, Koufax scoffed at the idea.

"At 25, you don't have to adjust. Talk to me when he's 35 about whether you have to adjust," Koufax said. "No. He just has to keep doing what he's done. And every year he's gotten better. If he keeps getting better, the sky's the limit. And if he doesn't get any better, the sky's the limit.

"He's a great pitcher. He's special."

PUIG'S FLAIR: Koufax was also asked about dynamic outfielder Yasiel Puig's big-league breakout last season. Koufax followed it from afar but said "it was crazy" to watch Puig's meteoric rise to star status in the majors.

"This was exciting because the team was struggling and he came up and kind of ignited what eventually happened and they got to the playoffs," Koufax said.

NOTES: Koufax, who will not make the trip to Australia, was asked if he thought the rivalry between the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks might flare up during their two-game series there. "No. Absolutely not," he said. "After that long on an airplane, you don't have a temper left." ...

Left-hander Onelki Garcia (knee and elbow surgeries last fall) and right-hander Zach Lee (lat strain) are making progress in their throwing programs and could begin throwing bullpen sessions off a mound soon.

(c)2014 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

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