During Walker Buehler’s Double-A debut, the 22-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers prospect showed his impressive stuff but the results were underwhelming. In his second start with the Drillers, facing off against the Texas League’s ERA leader Jack Flaherty and the Springfield Cardinals (St. Louis affiliate), Buehler was as dominant as ever.
While Buehler used his fastball almost exclusively early in his debut, he went to the curveball and slider more often in the first few frames on Wednesday. Buehler’s first strikeout came against the leadoff man, as the right-hander got ahead with fastballs and finished him off with a slider.
A weak grounder to shortstop was followed by one of the only hard-hit balls against Buehler, a drive deep to right field that was tracked down by Stetson Allie to end the inning.
In the second frame, Buehler took off. He got ahead of the first batter with fastballs and then froze him with a curve. Buehler then changed speeds on the second batter of the inning, blowing him away with a high heater.
The third batter fell behind in the count but managed to fist a slider into right-center field for a single. Pitching out of the stretch, Buehler thought he had a strikeout on a 2-2 fastball but it was called a ball. The next pitch was taken for strike three.
It was more of the same in the third inning. Buehler overwhelmed the No. 8 hitter with fastballs for his fifth strikeout. The opposing pitcher didn’t fare any better, taking the first two fastballs and swinging through the third.
Then, came a little bit of adversity. The leadoff man got ahead, 2-1, and took a low and away fastball to the right-center gap for a two-out triple. But it was all for naught, as Buehler battled and came away victorious, striking out the side for the second straight inning.
In the fourth, Buehler lost the strike zone momentarily and walked the three-hole hitter. After the cleanup hitter got ahead of Buehler, 2-0, and yanked a fastball foul, the righty decided not to challenge with the heater again and instead got him to chase back-to-back sliders for his eighth strikeout.
A hanging breaking ball was poked into left field for a single, putting runners on first and second for Casey Grayson. He’d already rolled an inside slider into right-center field for a single in the second inning, so Buehler decided to stay away.
A swing-and-miss on an outside fastball was followed by another, which registered at 99 mph on the stadium gun. One more, and Buehler recorded his career-high ninth strikeout. That was all for the righty, as he’d reached his pitch limit.
Buehler’s start came to an end at 3.2 scoreless innings, with three hits allowed, one walk and the aforementioned nine strikeouts. Just two outs he recorded, both in the first inning, were not strikeouts.
Buehler now has a combined 39 strikeouts in 24 innings between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Tulsa this. While he showcased an elite fastball and curveball in his debut, the slider factored heavily into Wednesday’s start, which accounts for the increase in strikeouts.
His command was somewhat inconsistent but Buehler was generally around the zone. He did a good job of throwing his curveball and slider for strikes.
The plan is to increase Buehler’s workload incrementally, as he’s now at a four-innings, 65-pitches threshold. There isn’t currently a target date for him to reach the Majors. However, more outings like this could coax the Dodgers into accelerating his timeline.
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