Widely considered the No. 1 prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Walker Buehler was promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City this week and made his debut with the affiliate Thursday. Buehler was expected to be on his usual pitch limit, which has extended north of 70 pitches a few times in recent starts.
However, the right-hander didn’t come close to meeting that goal as he failed to record an out in a disastrous first inning. The leadoff batter set the tone for Buehler’s start.
With the count at 1-1, he threw a pitch at the knees that looked like a strike but was called a ball. It was followed by a swinging strike that should have been strike three. However, the plate appearance continued with a 2-2 count and resulted in a walk.
The next batter fell behind 1-2, fouling off a few pitches before blooping a single into right field. Suddenly, there were runners on the corners with nobody out.
The third batter is really where the inning started to fall apart. With the count 2-2, Buehler threw a fastball that looked like it caught the outside corner at the knees but it was called a ball. Buehler threw the same pitch at 3-2 and ended up walking the bases loaded.
Buehler fell behind the cleanup hitter, then hung a 3-1 slider that was nearly driven into the left-field corner for a double but went foul. The plate appearance ended on walk to bring in a run.
The fifth batter Buehler faced took a strike, then grounded a single into right field to score two more runs. That would be it for Buehler, who faced five batters, allowed four runs on two hits and three walks and did not record an out. He threw 29 pitches, 16 of which were strikes.
Despite the walks, Buehler didn’t appear to be wild. He was around the plate with most of his pitches, struggling most to locate his curveball. He did appear to get squeezed on a few pitches, but the command simply wasn’t there.
At first glance, it appeared that Buehler was rushing his delivery, throwing his timing out of whack and leading to erratic command.
The start came on the heels of one with Double-A Tulsa in which Buehler’s command disappeared near the end of the outing. In that game, allowing just two baserunners in the first three innings, he ended up walking three straight batters to start fourth.
The 22-year-old went record a strikeout and surrender a sacrifice fly before an RBI single ended his day. Of the last 11 batters Buehler has faced, he’s issued six walks and allowed three hits.
That’s not to say the world isn’t ending. A similar debut was experienced by a fellow top pitching prospect in 2015. Two years ago, Julio Urias made his debut with Oklahoma City and allow three runs while lasting just a single inning.
In his next start, Urias’ last of the season, he surrendered six runs in 3.1 innings. Urias went on to produce a 3.39 ERA in the Majors the following year. So, fret not. Not yet, anyway.
Maybe it was his nerves, maybe it was adrenaline, maybe it was the 100-degree heat. Whatever the cause for Buehler’s struggles, there’s still plenty of time for him to sort it out. And remember, there’s a chance he joins the Dodgers come September.
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