While the Los Angeles Dodgers are one week into the 2018 regular season, their Minor League affiliates have only just reached the beginning of their respective campaigns. As such, Triple-A Oklahoma City faces the Iowa Cubs, and hand the ball to Walker Buehler for his first career Opening Day start.
“It’s a big honor. I’m looking forward to it,” Buehler said. He enters the season as the organization’s top pitching prospect. Buehler was with the Dodgers in Major League camp during Spring Training, though only appeared in two games.
What’s more, he was not among the prospects to join the Dodgers for the exhibition Freeway Series at the end of spring. This season is Buehler’s second full year removed from Tommy John surgery.
After joining the Dodgers last September and pitching out the bullpen, he’s looking forward to reprising his natural role as a starter in 2018.
“Just getting back to myself, trying to get efficient outs and hopefully strike some guys out along the way. Just trying to create easier outs,” the 23-year-old said of his focus.
Oklahoma City manager Bill Hasselman knows Buehler’s time with the affiliate could be curtailed.
“He’s one of the guys who’s kind of on a mission,” Hasselman said.
“Knows himself, knows what he needs to do. I think going up there and learning some of the stuff helped him, but it didn’t really change him a whole lot.”
Buehler is expected to go five innings or 75 pitches on Opening Day and in his first couple of starts.
The Dodgers have not specified when the right-hander may join the club, though president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is confident Buehler will play a key role for them this season.