Rookie Walker Buehler, now the Dodgers' co-ace, isn't stopping

ByAlden Gonzalez ESPN logo
Thursday, September 20, 2018

LOS ANGELES -- Walker Buehler surpassed 140 innings between the minors and majors on Wednesday, while giving up only a couple of unearned runs in a sweep-clinching victory over the Colorado Rockies. There was a time, not too long ago, when a number like that would have mattered. The Los Angeles Dodgers were going to closely monitor Buehler's workload because he is a prized rookie and because he is pitching in only his second full season since Tommy John surgery.

That no longer appears to be the case.

"He's one of our starters," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, "and we're going to continue to lean on him."

Buehler is so much more than a Dodgers starter; he's one of their aces, right there alongside three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.

In his latest start, the 24-year-old right-hander recovered from a 36-pitch first inning to complete six frames. He allowed only three hits, issued just one walk and struck out a career-high 12 batters, becoming the youngest pitcher since Kershaw in 2011 to record a double-digit strikeout game for the Dodgers.

Buehler has a 1.58 ERA over his past 10 starts, with 79 strikeouts and 18 walks in a stretch of 62 innings.

He has compiled 140 innings between the major and minor leagues this season, which would be right around the potential limit Roberts laid out as a possibility in spring training -- but he hasn't been approached about shutting it down and doesn't expect to be.

"I know it's going to be a question all the time, but I was 19 years old and threw 140 innings [in college], so this is not something that's super new to me," Buehler said. "I've played in long seasons before. Obviously not like this, but at some point, none of that matters, and at some point, we're just trying to win games. That's how I feel. They can limit me if they want to, but I wouldn't take it very well."

Buehler's pitches were noticeably up in the strike zone to start Wednesday's game, a sign to Roberts he might have been a little too amped. He nearly escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam, but surrendered a two-out, two-run single to Ian Desmond.

From there, Buehler cruised.

He generated 19 swinging strikes and used his devastating four-pitch mix -- cutter, slider, curveball and upper-90s fastball -- to consistently keep the Rockies' hitters off balance. Roberts called Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado "arguably the best player in the National League" at the start of the series, and Buehler struck him out three times.

"I really like our chances when he's taking the mound," Roberts said. "I feel the same, obviously, about Clayton. A different sort of track record, but Walker has ascended to that."

Buehler has a small, wiry frame, but he has an accelerated, up-tempo delivery that looks like a cross between Tim Lincecum and Justin Verlander. He's young, but he's as meticulous as he is confident.

The former first-round pick out of Vanderbilt entered the season as the Dodgers' top prospect and now owns a 2.74 ERA in 124 MLB innings, with 143 strikeouts and 32 walks. Rockies manager Bud Black, a former big league pitcher, raved about every aspect of Buehler prior to Wednesday's game -- from his delivery to his athleticism, his ability to hold runners, his command of the strike zone and, obviously, his raw stuff.

"He was brought up the right way, wherever that was, from a teaching standpoint," Black said. "Barring injury, he's going to be around for a while, and he's throwing it really, really well."

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