The Los Angeles Dodgers got a glimpse of the future in 2018 when Walker Buehler finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting and looked to be ready to take over for Clayton Kershaw as the team’s ace after strong postseason performances.
However, the 2019 season didn’t get off to a good start for the young righty. Buehler dealt with some arm issues during Spring Training that limited him to just one Cactus League start. With Kershaw and Rich Hill each beginning the season on the 10-day injured list, Buehler was thrust into the Opening Day rotation.
He clearly didn’t look like his 2018 self in his first three starts to begin the year, allowing 11 runs in 12 innings (8.25 ERA).
In his final 27 outings, Buehler pitched to a 2.91 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, finishing his first full Major League season with a 14-4 record, 3.26 ERA, 3.01 FIP and 1.04 WHIP in 30 starts. He struck out 215 compared to just 37 walks in 182.1 total innings.
In recently reflecting on the trajectory of his season, Buehler admitted his rough start made him rethink some matters, as seen on SportsNet LA:
“To be honest with you, I think I got a little bit humbled at the beginning of the year. I wasn’t who I thought I was. I thought I could just walk back out and do what I did at the end of [last] year. You kind of learn that’s not the case, and kind of finding it again and working on some stuff, figuring stuff out, obviously helps. I think the more that you struggle, the better you are when you’re good. I think that’s helped me a lot.”
The 25-year-old came up big for the Dodgers in the postseason once again, allowing just one run in 12.2 innings (0.71 ERA) in two starts against the Washington Nationals in the National League Division Series.
It was to no avail as he left the decisive Game 5 with a lead after 6.2 strong innings, but Kershaw and the bullpen could not hang onto it and the Dodgers season came to a shocking end.
It is easy to see how much Buehler has matured as a pitcher in his short time in the big leagues. After his slow start, he once again proved that he is ready to take the next step in becoming one of the best starters in all of baseball.
Buehler and Kershaw will both be back in 2020 and should anchor what will likely be one of the best rotations in baseball again.