There is a schedule posted in the Dodgers’ clubhouse at Camelback Ranch listing the bullpen sessions for the pitchers in camp. The pitchers are divided into three groups and they alternate taking a mound every three days. It’s standard.
Every pitcher in camp is on there, including Walker Buehler, who was slated to throw bullpen sessions Thursday and Sunday. But Buehler did not throw one on Thursday or on Sunday. He has not thrown a bullpen since reporting to spring training. He and the Dodgers say that is by design.
The Dodgers, manager Dave Roberts said, are “slow-playing” Buehler after the wiry right-hander logged 177 innings between the regular season and playoffs in 2018 — double his workload from the previous season and three years removed from elbow-ligament replacement surgery.
Both Roberts and Buehler insisted he is not injured. Buehler threw bullpen sessions before arriving in Arizona and reported to camp healthy. He played catch Sunday morning, minutes after Roberts said he is tentatively slated to throw in the bullpen for the first time on Wednesday.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a very long delay,” Buehler said. “It’s all good.”
He compiled 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings and a 0.96 WHIP. And he was even better after recovering from a rib injury, tallying a 1.55 ERA in his final 12 regular-season starts as Los Angeles clawed to the top of the National League West.
The push concluded with 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 163 against the Colorado Rockies to boost the Dodgers to their sixth consecutive division title. He allowed nine runs in his first two playoff starts, but surrendered one in his final two. In Game 3 of the World Series, he limited the Boston Red Sox to two hits over seven shutout innings. He savored the stage.
“I was happy,” said Buehler, who finished third in the National League rookie of the year voting last season. “Certain things, certain times I wish would’ve done better or done things better. But all in all I felt pretty good about it.”
Dodgers bullpen coach Mark Prior, who is serving as the club’s de facto pitching coach while Rick Honeycutt recovers from recent back surgery, cited two areas of chief importance for Buehler this season: becoming more efficient and staying healthy. The two are linked.
Throwing fewer pitches means less stress on his arm and a better chance of avoiding injury, though bad luck can always strike; last season, he took a line drive in the ribs and was diagnosed with a microfracture in his rib cage. It landed him on the injured list twice. That was a fluky ailment. The Dodgers are focused on avoiding arm-related problems and will maintain a close eye on the blossoming ace once he resumes throwing off the mound.
“We’ll just talk with him, just kind of engage and see how he looks,” Prior said. “I think once we get him going and get him in his bullpens we’ll have a better idea. But he’s ready to go. He’s looked good the last couple days. So it’s going to be fun to watch him get going again.”
That could come as soon as Wednesday.
“My body felt the best in the last game of the season,” Buehler said. “In terms of lifting, conditioning, throwing, all that stuff, I got a pretty good groove and just hope you stay as healthy as much as you can and stay at that point.”