Buehler 'confident' after hitting 96 mph in return

r1329511 600x400 3 2

LOS ANGELES — Walker Buehler threw the first pitch of Monday’s game at 7:10 p.m. PT and glanced toward Dodger Stadium’s right-field scoreboard with uncertainty.

Buehler had spent parts of a 20-month rehabilitation from a second Tommy John surgery unsure what to expect. He anticipated the velocity bump that would come with the adrenaline of pitching in a major league game, but he didn’t know if it would actually show up. At times, he wondered if he’d have to adapt to pitching at slightly lower velocities. Then the results of his first pitch flashed on the board:

96 mph.

It was an early sign that things were in order. What followed was a shaky outing — three runs on six hits in four innings against a Miami Marlins offense that entered with the third-lowest OPS in the majors — but promising peripherals, chief among them the radar-gun readings. Buehler averaged 96 mph with his fastball and reached 97 and 98 mph on a handful of occasions in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ eventual 6-3 victory. It could set the tone for his reemergence.

“I think I could be OK if I was 92-94 [mph]; I think I’m confident that way,” Buehler said. “But it helps a lot if I can throw 96 or 97. I’m very confident in my ability to do a lot of things with the ball. It’s just a lot easier for me to do it the way that I know how to do it. The idea that I can get pretty close to what I used to do, it makes it a little more attainable.”

Most of the damage against Buehler came early. The Marlins compiled three singles within the first five batters to plate two runs in the first inning, then got a leadoff homer from Nick Gordon in the second. The Dodgers overcame that with home runs from Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman, James Outman and Teoscar Hernandez — all within the first three innings — and Buehler settled down thereafter.

The 29-year-old right-hander finished retiring six of the last eight batters he faced. He hit a batter, made an error by dropping a feed from Freeman, had a hard time holding runners and generally struggled to put hitters away. But he also struck out four and generated eight swings and misses — four on his cutter, two on his four-seam fastball and two on his curveball. His fastball velocity settled into the 94-95 mph range in the fourth inning merely because he was “really tired,” Buehler said. He said he’ll keep improving.

“The ceremony of it is done,” Buehler said. “Now I can kind of focus on trying to be good and helping our team. I wish it would’ve gone better. I wish I would’ve thrown five or six shutout innings and whatever. But it’s done. And I’m happy to be back.”

It was a long road.

Buehler, who had Tommy John surgery shortly after he was drafted in 2015, then again in August 2022, tried to come back for the stretch run of the 2023 season but essentially ran out of time. He began another rehab assignment near the end of March and wound up requiring six starts.

Buehler’s third outing ended prematurely when a comebacker struck his right middle finger after just 27 pitches, about 50 short of his goal. In his next two starts, he allowed 11 hits and issued six walks in a stretch of 6⅔ innings, his command clearly lacking. His ensuing start, though, finally showed progress. Buehler, a pending free agent, threw five scoreless innings with the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate last Tuesday, running his pitch count to 75 and recording 15 outs for the first time. The Dodgers set an 85-pitch limit for his 2024 debut and watched him throw 77 pitches. Buehler said he was already feeling tired by the second inning.

I’m sure tomorrow he’s going to wake up feeling like he got in a car accident,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “His whole body’s going to be sore. But that’s a good thing. And so he’ll get back to, you know, being a regular major league starter. But we got Walker Buehler back.”

When Roberts last saw Buehler, he was one of the most electric pitchers in the sport and also one of its best big-game performers. From 2018 to 2021, Buehler went 39-13 with a 2.82 ERA and 620 strikeouts in 564 innings during the regular season. But his signature moments came in October, particularly 6⅔ scoreless innings in a tiebreaker game against the Colorado Rockies in 2018, seven shutout innings in Game 3 of the ensuing World Series and, most notably, a stretch in which he allowed one run in 12 innings over the final two rounds of the 2020 playoffs, helping the Dodgers capture a championship.

Now he’ll join a rotation fronted by two major offseason additions in Tyler Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. At some point relatively soon, the Dodgers hope to get electric, young right-hander Bobby Miller back from a bout of shoulder inflammation. And in the second half, future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw should join what could be the most star-studded rotation Buehler has ever been part of.

“We’ve always had talented rotations, but this is a little bit different — especially with the two guys we have at the front of it,” Buehler said. “There’s just a lot of good things that come out of how much talent we have, how close we all are. We kind of push each other. I’m excited for that, and I just want to be a cog in that. I don’t think right now I’m going to be the No. 1 on our team, and that’s fine with me. I’ve been there before, and obviously I’m there right now. But I would like to push myself closer to that conversation. Whatever I need to do to help us win and get back to that I think is what our goals are.”

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top