After a lackluster spring training and a slow start to the regular season, the Los Angeles Dodgers will strut into their home opener on Thursday against the visiting Cincinnati Reds.

Most of the feel-good sensation for the plane ride home Wednesday evening was created by veteran left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who pitched seven perfect innings in a combined one-hitter as the Dodgers earned a 7-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins earlier in the day.

There also have been signs of life from an offense that slogged its way through Cactus League play and the opening series of the season at Colorado, when the Dodgers lost two of three. Los Angeles scored 14 runs in a two-game sweep of the Twins after scoring 11 runs in three games against the Rockies.

Kershaw won’t pitch in the upcoming four-game series against the Reds. Right-hander Walker Buehler (1-0, 3.60 ERA) will take the mound in a rare nighttime home opener for the Dodgers. However, Kershaw’s perfect 80-pitch outing to open his season figures to resonate through the weekend.

“Blame it on the lockout. Blame it on me not picking up a baseball until January,” Kershaw said about not trying to go the distance Wednesday. “My slider was horrible the last two innings. It didn’t have the bite. It was time.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “I can’t be more happy for Clayton, and (catcher) Austin (Barnes) was fantastic back there. But we won a big-league ballgame. We beat a good ballclub, and I can’t wait for the home opener.”

After so many years of having Kershaw at the top of the rotation, the Dodgers consider Buehler to be the lead dog now. In the season opener Friday against the Rockies, he gave up two runs on four hits over five innings with two walks and five strikeouts.

In five career starts against the Reds, Buehler is 1-3 with a 3.23 ERA. In two starts vs. Cincinnati last season, he went 0-1 with a 5.84 ERA.

The Reds are expected to counter Thursday with left-hander Reiver Sanmartin (0-1, 19.29), who will be making his fourth career major league appearance. Sanmartin lasted just 2 1/3 innings in his season debut Friday against the Atlanta Braves, giving up five runs on four hits with five walks and two strikeouts.

The 25-year-old will be facing the Dodgers for the first time.

The Reds are 2-4 to open the season and will arrive in Los Angeles after consecutive home defeats to the Cleveland Guardians by a combined score of 17-8.

The on-field product has not been the only reason for the Reds’ bumpy start. In an interview on WLW radio in Cincinnati, Reds president Phil Castellini addressed disgruntled fans by suggesting the team would be more competitive by moving to a different market.

It did not take long for Castellini to change his tone.

“I apologize to Reds fans and regret the comments that I made earlier today,” he said. “We love this city, we love this team and we love our fans. I understand how our fans feel and I am sorry.”

Former Dodger Kyle Farmer is off to a hot start for the Reds with six hits and four RBIs in six games. Tyler Naquin is 7-for-18 (.389) with a home run and three RBIs. However, veteran Joey Votto has just three hits in 21 at-bats, (.143), while reigning National League Rookie of the Year Jonathan India has just five hits in 26 at-bats (.192).

–Field Level Media