Walker Buehler’s exit puts damper on Dodgers’ win over Braves
A prized 23-year-old right-hander who cranks his fastball up to 98 mph was pulled from a game because of injury Friday night, causing consternation for a Los Angeles-area team and its fans.
The Dodgers, unlike the Angels, can exhale.
While Shohei Ohtani suffered an elbow ligament injury that could sideline the two-way star for months, Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler left a 7-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves after 51/3 innings because of rib soreness.
The injury took some shine off a win in which the Dodgers hit a season-high five homers — two by Yasmani Grandal and one by Cody Bellinger, who has homered in four straight games — and pushed the Dodgers (32-31) over .500 for the first time since April 23, when they were 11-10.
Buehler, who was hit in the ribs by a line drive on May 21 against Colorado, underwent X-rays and was not available after the game, but the injury does not appear serious enough to sideline him for an extended period.
“That’s the hope, that it’s just a bruise,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We just want to make sure there’s nothing fractured. He had a little trouble breathing and was in pain, so we wanted to get him out.”
Buehler, 23, has teamed with Ross Stripling to fortify an injury-ravaged rotation that has four starters on the disabled list, going 4-1 with a 2.74 ERA in nine starts, striking out 54 and walking 11 in 51 1/3 innings.
He was dominant through four innings Friday, mixing his electric fastball with his slider and curve to retire 12 straight batters to open the game before being nicked for a run in the fifth.
Buehler struck out Johan Camargo to open the sixth, but Roberts noticed his last two fastballs had dipped to 92 mph. He and athletic trainer Nate Lucero visited the mound. Buehler headed for the dugout.
“The first five innings he was 96-98 mph, the stuff was really good, and in the sixth, he kind of hit a wall,” Roberts said.
“His velocity started to tick down. It didn’t seem like he was letting it go. That was a big red flag, that he was protecting it.”
The Dodgers have used the disabled list 16 times, with 11 of those moves involving pitchers.
“It’s one of those things,” Roberts said. “If you’re a pitcher on this staff … heads up.”
Santana, one of the team’s top pitching prospects, walked into the clubhouse Friday with his right arm in a sling and was placed on the DL because of a rotator-cuff strain. The severity of the injury is not known.
Having used nine relievers in Thursday’s 8-7 win, the Dodgers made a call to arms Friday, promoting ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte and left-hander Adam Liberatore from triple A.
“We’re hurting in the bullpen,” Roberts said before the game, “but we brought in two humans and three arms, so we should be covered tonight.”
Both pitched, with mixed results. Venditte gave up back-to-back doubles to Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman for a run in the sixth, then walked Kurt Suzuki and gave up a single to Ender Inciarte to open the seventh.
Liberatore came on to face Charlie Culberson, who hit a hard grounder that was turned into superb double play. Liberatore struck out Peter Bourjos to end the seventh. He gave up a homer to Camargo to open the eighth but retired the next three batters. Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth to close the Dodgers’ 16th win in 21 games since May 17.
“Our bullpen has been getting crushed innings-wise, but they’ve been phenomenal,” Bellinger said. “Venditte and Liberatore came in and did a great job. That’s all you can ask for.”
The Dodgers roughed up Atlanta starter Brandon McCarthy for four runs and five hits in 42/3 innings, Yasiel Puig hitting an RBI single in the first, and Grandal hitting a 429-foot homer to center in the second and a 423-foot shot to center in the fourth for a 3-0 lead.
The Braves pulled to within 3-1 in the fifth on a Nick Markakis single and Kurt Suzuki RBI double.
Joc Pederson hit a solo homer to right, his sixth homer in six games, in the sixth, and Max Muncy followed with a homer to right, his 10th, off reliever Sam Freeman for a 5-1 lead. Muncy added an RBI double in the seventh and Bellinger hit his 12th homer in the eighth. Puig was picked off first after his first-inning hit and removed for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.
“He’s fine, it was just an in-house thing that we’re dealing with,” Roberts said of the often-disciplined Puig. “He’ll be in there [Saturday].”
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