It was evident in the third inning that Clayton Kershaw, at least early on, was not entirely on his game when he served up four consecutive balls and walked the opposing pitcher, Joe Saunders.
But Kershaw then settled down and turned in a gem Friday night, throwing seven scoreless innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks and striking out 11 batters.
Kershaw left with a 4-0 lead, which Dodgers relievers Matt Guerrier and Vicente Padilla nearly squandered.
But the Dodgers held on to edge the Diamondbacks, 4-3, in the opener of their three-game series at Dodger Stadium, handing Arizona its fifth consecutive loss.
Despite his early wobbly control, the 23-year-old Kershaw (5-3) gave up only three hits in front of an announced crowd of 35,056. And it was the sixth time in his career that the left-hander had struck out 11 batters or more in a game.
"It took him a while to get the ball down," Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said of Kershaw, but that "as the game went on he got better. His stuff was unbelievable tonight."
Kershaw also retired the last 14 Diamondbacks he faced, and he dropped his earned-run average to 2.75.
Kershaw said he was fortunate to get out of his early jams, then "after that I felt all right."
"The pitches were working and they were swinging at balls in the dirt," Kershaw said. "When you get in a groove you just start throwing off-speed pitches for strikes.
"It worked out."
His effort was nearly wasted by the bullpen.
Guerrier gave up a run-scoring single to Arizona's Xavier Nady in the eighth inning. Padilla, who has taken over as the Dodgers' closer for injured Jonathan Broxton, then gave up a two-run single to pinch-hitter Miguel Montero in the ninth.