Dodgers’ Walker Buehler has Cy Young talent if not the hardware – yet – Orange County Register

Dodgers’ Walker Buehler has Cy Young talent if not the hardware – yet – Orange County Register

GLENDALE, Ariz. — When the Dodgers signed reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, it was universally noted that they would boast three former Cy Young winners on their pitching staff this season – Bauer, David Price and three-time winner Clayton Kershaw.

It was then frequently noted that another pitcher in the Dodgers’ projected rotation, right-hander Walker Buehler, has Cy Young talent if not the hardware – yet.

“I think that obviously when you win a Cy Young, you’re the best pitcher in your league. So that’s certainly a goal, obviously, to be the best at whatever you do, when you’re comparing yourself to your peers,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said this spring. “But I think Walker is very good about staying in the moment and trying to be the best he can be. Where that leads is where that leads.”

One thing Buehler has already demonstrated is that the moment is never too big for him. In fact, the bigger the moment, the better Buehler becomes.

Over his past nine postseason starts (beginning with Game 7 of the NL Championship Series in 2018), Buehler has a 1.28 ERA, holding batters to a .178 average and striking out 68 in 49-1/3 innings. The Dodgers have won seven of those nine games.

In two World Series starts during that time (Game 3 in both 2018 and 2020), Buehler has allowed just one run and five hits while striking out 17 in 13 innings.

If that Buehler (or something close to it) could show up all season long, a Cy Young award would almost certainly follow.

“Yeah, I mean I think it’s kind of a weird thing to talk about myself but with some of the things I’ve been able to do during the postseason I kind of want to be able to do those things all year,” Buehler acknowledged. “I feel like last postseason was good for me, being able to go a little deeper in a lot of those games. I just would like to be more consistent. I would like to do that all year.

“Everybody wants to be better and that’s the one area of improvement for me, to be good early in the year and throughout the year and still be able to do what I want and what the team needs me to do at the end of the year.”

It’s a scouting report Roberts endorses.

“I do, I do,” he said. “It’s interesting because there’s a slow-start component and there’s also the most-important-time-of-the-year component where he’s always been at his best. So, obviously, you’ve got to value the latter more.

“But I think that with Walker’s talent he should have it both and start off well and finish well.”

Buehler is entering just his fourth season as a full-time member of the Dodgers’ rotation. But he has made just eight career starts before May 1 – and they have been by far his least effective. His opening-month ERA (4.35), WHIP (1.25) strikeout rate (8.0 per nine innings) and strikeout-to-walk rate (2.69) are all his worst for any month.

In spring 2018, Buehler was still not far removed from Tommy John surgery in August 2015 and the Dodgers handled him carefully. He didn’t make his first regular-season start until April 23.

In spring 2019, Buehler was coming off the longest season of his life, having thrown over 160 innings between the regular season and postseason the previous October. The Dodgers opted to “slow-play” him in spring training but he did open the season in the rotation.

Last season when the pandemic shut baseball down for four months, Buehler gave in to the uncertainty and did not continue his throwing program throughout that time. He pitched very little in Summer Camp before the season started. His 3.44 ERA in eight regular-season starts was the highest of his young career – but his postseason was electric.

This offseason, Buehler took a different approach, continuing to throw throughout the winter and entering spring training ready to ramp up at a quicker pace than years past.

“No, it wasn’t the team’s fault,” Buehler said when asked if he felt he had been held back by the team in previous springs. “I’ve just always been kind of a little bit banged up early. I don’t know if it’s me trying to do too a little too much at home too early or not realizing I have so much time. I think a lot of it has been staring down at two weeks before camp and trying to get going even more and wanting more from myself.

“I’m out there. That’s the biggest thing, just trying to get ready in a better way – better for me and better for the team.”

Buehler has indeed been out there regularly from the start of the Cactus League schedule. But the results have not been a ringing endorsement for his new process. Buehler has allowed 26 hits in 17 spring innings, including six home runs.

Four of those home runs came in the first two innings of his most recent start, Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers.

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