In addition to scaling back the workload of several of their veterans, the Los Angeles Dodgers have crafted a similar Spring Training plan for Walker Buehler. Some of it was out of necessity, and in some regard it was due to preserve the organization’s top pitching prospect’s availability.
Buehler dealt with upper-back soreness in January, which delayed his throwing program. The Dodgers also will have him on an innings limit this season, which makes stretching him out like a usual starter by Opening Day not quite as imperative.
Up until Saturday, Buehler had been limited to bullpen sessions and work on the backfields at Camelback Ranch. The 23-year-old made his 2018 Spring Training debut against the Chicago Cubs and was thoroughly dominant.
Buehler entered in the eighth inning with the game tied, and proceeded to retire six of seven batters faced. The only baserunner Buehler allowed came on a leadoff single in the ninth inning.
He responded by striking out the side to close out the ninth. Buehler finished with five strikeouts and earned the win as Donovan Solano’s sacrifice fly lifted the Dodgers to a walk-off victory.
His appearance included twice throwing a changeup, which Buehler said is the last pitch in his arsenal to come around since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
“A lot of it is subconscious. I don’t think you actively do it,” he said. “Last year, a lot of times the first one I’d throw would be fine and the rest would be terrible. I’m finally getting over that hurdle. That’s a pitch you really have to get out over, and the full extension of that pitch can be in the back of your mind a little daunting.”
An effective changeup would made Buehler all the more difficult to hit, as his velocity already sits in the upper 90s. He’s also discussed adding more bite to a slider that grew flat during his MLB debut last September.
Buehler figures to have some time with Triple-A Oklahoma City to refine his pitches before an expected call-up to the Dodgers. Manager Dave Roberts estimated the right-hander would throw upwards of 150 innings this season, which would nearly double Buehler’s 2017 amount and set a career high.