Home Sports Walker Buehler offers more speed with a little rust in exchange for the Dodgers

Walker Buehler offers more speed with a little rust in exchange for the Dodgers

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Walker Buehler offers more speed with a little rust in exchange for the Dodgers

The return of 29-year-old right-hander Walker Buehler to the mound at Dodger Stadium on Monday was a welcome sight not only for his team and its fans, but also for a broader baseball world that has lately been inundated with bad news with regarding our favorite. Health status of the pitchers.

Buehler’s return is little consolation for the staggering number of arms we’ve lost to the disabled list in recent months, but it’s still an exciting development, especially considering the trajectory the NBA starter seemed to be on. Dodgers before getting injured. From 2018 to 2021, Buehler was one of the top 10 starting pitchers in baseball. by most measures, and seemed to be getting better. Watching him get injured just when he seemed to be at his peak was a tough pill to swallow, and one can imagine that feeling was tenfold for Buehler and those around him.

Fresh off an exquisite campaign in which he finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting, Buehler was the 2022 Opening Day starter for the Dodgers, a notable sign of his status considering the loaded rotation around him. That group included three All-Stars (Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Anderson, Tony Gonsolin) and two other lefties who enjoyed career seasons (Julio Urías, Andrew Heaney). Buehler, however, saw his season cut short when he had to leave due to elbow problems in June, resulting in Tommy John surgery in late August, the second of his career, about seven years after his first procedure shortly after. after being drafted by the Dodgers in 2015.

Fast forward to his long-awaited return nearly two years later, and Buehler joins an equally star-studded rotation, albeit made up of entirely new characters. On Tuesday, 25-year-old phenom Yoshinobu Yamamoto will follow Buehler in just his eighth MLB start. After that, Gavin Stone, who was in Double-A the last time Buehler pitched for Los Angeles, will take the hill. Next will come Tyler Glasnow, who was rehabbing his own Tommy John surgery with the Rays two years ago. Buehler’s latest new rotation partner is veteran left-hander James Paxton, who pitched a season-high 6 2/3 innings Sunday against Atlanta. Several familiar faces also remain in the organization (Kershaw, Gonsolin and Dustin May, among others), each of whom are recovering from injury.

The variety of high-profile acquisitions, made this winter due in large part to the number of weapons projected to start the season at IL, have made strong first impressions. But for the Dodgers, there is immense comfort and joy in seeing a homegrown star like Buehler complete the rehab journey and reestablish himself as a rotation fixture.

And it was an extended return to action for the talented right-hander. Buehler pitched in Triple-A last September, with cautious whispers about a possible postseason return before the Dodgers decided to shut him down and focus on a fully healthy return in 2024, when there could be no concerns about being rushed. return too quickly. In turn, the Dodgers continued to take it easy with Buehler entering 2024, allowing him a full month of rehab starts before activating him for Monday’s outing against Miami.

In his six rehab outings (one with Low-A Rancho Cucamonga, five with Triple-A Oklahoma City), Buehler generally looked like himself, even if the results (4.15 ERA in 21 2/3 IP) were pretty pedestrian. . The pitch combination he showed in his five Triple-A starts looked a lot like the one he showed in his 12 starts in 2022, but with one tick less velocity across the board. His fastball averaged 94 mph and peaked at 95.9 — some healthy heat but a notch below the 95.2 mph and 97.8 mph averages he hit in 2022, let alone the triple digits he routinely hit. at the beginning of his career.

In the weeks leading up to his return to the majors, Buehler talked about how he wouldn’t really know what he was capable of velocity-wise until he was back on the mound at Dodger Stadium, feeling the adrenaline of facing MLB hitters. . In other words, a pitcher can only exaggerate so much in front of a few thousand fans in a minor league stadium.

“Physically, it’s hard to get your arm to do certain things that you need to throw really hard and know where you’re going; adrenaline is a big part of that,” Buehler said last week. on the “Just Baseball” podcast. “We’re hoping that the adrenaline takes me to a different place, and then you can start holding that because you do it every week.”

It didn’t take long on Monday for Buehler to prove him right. His first pitch of the night was 96.1 mph. Seven pitches later, he hit 97.6. Of the 77 total pitches he threw in his return, his 22nd four-seamer averaged 95.9 mph, 0.7 mph faster than what he showed in 12 starts in 2022.

But while the speed immediately resurfaced in exciting fashion, the rust was clearly present in Buehler’s first frames. He allowed two runs in the first inning on a pair of strong balls from Bryan De La Cruz and Jesús Sánchez. In the second inning, he gave up a home run to Nick Gordon and then dropped a pitch to Freddie Freeman as he covered first base with a groundout. His command of his breaking material was shaky and he wore down a bit as the game progressed, leading to him completing only four innings.

Buehler’s rehab outings offered a lower-risk environment in which he could shake off the rust without worrying about the results. But in his first start with the 2024 Dodgers, he enjoyed a different kind of safety net: ground support provided by baseball’s best lineup.

It took two batters for Buehler’s teammates to erase the Marlins’ two-run lead in the top of the first. A four-pitch walk to Mookie Betts was quickly followed by a titanic blast to center field by Shohei Ohtani, his league-leading 11th of the season. A couple of pitches later, Freddie Freeman launched an impressive round trip to give the Dodgers the lead.

After Buehler allowed the Marlins to tie the game in the second inning, Dodgers No. 9 hitter James Outman responded with a titanic home run to center field in the bottom half of the inning to put Los Angeles up 5 -3 on the way to 6-3. victory.

Buehler won’t always be guaranteed this kind of immediate response on days when he doesn’t have it, but this offensive firepower isn’t going anywhere. It probably won’t be long before he starts rattling off dominant seven-inning shutout outings in which hardly any run support is needed, except for outings where he’s not at his best, of which there could be several a as it progresses. back to top condition – it’s got to be comforting to know that he has an army of MVP candidates in the lineup ready to back him up.

With his first start in the books, Buehler is in for a big season as an individual and as a member of the Dodgers. As Los Angeles moves toward another 100-win season and a 12th consecutive trip to the playoffs, Buehler is surely eager to once again contribute to the Dodgers’ annual championship goal. His most recent postseason start came in Game 6 of the 2021 National League Championship Series, when he was the losing pitcher in the decisive factor of the series for Atlantaand he is surely ready to write a better ending for himself and his team this October.

What’s more, he will be preparing for his first time as a free agent. As long as Buehler’s absence was, the timing of his return now gives him the opportunity to reassert himself as one of the best arms in baseball and, in turn, get a big payday on the open market this winter, as whether with the Dodgers or anywhere else.

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