Walker Buehler went into the 2019 season with a goal of pitching 200 innings for the first time in his career, and while he fell just short (even with taking into account two playoff starts), the 25-year-old was nothing short of remarkable for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Buehler’s starts became must-see TV as he dominated opposing batters on any given night and at worst emerged as a co-ace on the staff with Clayton Kershaw. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts raved during the season that the team had three aces in Buehler, Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Although wildly successful on an individual level as a whole, the 2019 season did not begin on the best of terms for Buehler. He was slowed by some arm trouble during Spring Training, which led to the Dodgers easing he workload during camp.
The limited number of bullpen sessions and Cactus League starts appeared to impact Buehler come the start of the regular season. He sported a 5.22 ERA through April and had mixed results in his first May outing.
That was then followed by three consecutive starts and six of the next seven with one earned run or fewer allowed. All the while Buehler maintained an abbreviated Spring Training did not result in the shaky start to the season.
The right-hander finished 14-4 with two complete games, a 3.26 ERA, 3.01 FIP and 1.04 WHIP. His ERA remained somewhat inflated due to modest showings on the road.
The postseason saw Buehler slotted to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series so he could be available for a potential Game 5 as well. He had eight strikeouts over six shutout innings in a Game 1 victory and did his part in the winner-take-all elimination game but the Dodgers failed to back the effort.
Buehler set career highs in starts (30), innings pitched (182.1), was an All-Star for the first time and placed ninth in National League Cy Young Award voting.
Buehler fired his first ever complete game on June 21, collecting a career-high 16 strikeouts against the Colorado Rockies. Six weeks later he went the distance against the San Diego Padres, though settled for 15 strikeouts.
The performances — both of which were without a single walk — put Buehler in elite company along with Pedro Martínez (1999 and 2000) and Dwight Gooden (1984) as the only pitchers in MLB history with multiple starts of 15 strikeouts and zero walks in a single season.
Buehler additionally joined Sandy Koufax (1959, 1960, 1962) in Dodgers franchise history as the lone pitchers with multiple 15-strikeout games in one season.
Buehler should slot first into the starting rotation, but whether he’ll be followed by Kershaw or an offseason addition, is unsettled.
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