Walker Buehler charged out of his dugout and leaped into the arms of Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal. He eschewed a fist bump from reliever Adam Liberatore and hugged his teammate instead. As the Dodgers celebrated a 4-0 victory over San Diego, Buehler sought out the others who contributed to a unique milestone: The first combined no-hitter in Dodgers franchise history, and only the 12th in the history of the sport.
Buehler did the lion’s share of the work, logging six innings of no-hit baseball in the third start of his big-league career. After Buehler left the mound, Tony Cingrani handled the seventh. He walked a pair but did not give up a hit. Yimi Garcia blitzed through the eighth. When Liberatore struck out Padres outfielder Franchy Cordero to end the ninth, Grandal threw his fists toward the sky. Buehler ran out to celebrate with them.
“It’s a no-hitter,” Buehler said after he showered off the Tecate bath his teammates provided in the postgame bash. “We’re all pretty excited about it.”
Buehler did not have a chance to make history on his own.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts referred to his decision to remove Buehler from the game after the sixth inning as a “no-brainer.” Buehler called it “the toughest one of those conversations I’ve ever had.” Roberts has more experience in these situations.
By now, in his third season as manager, Roberts has grown accustomed to this sort of stress. He took the baseball from Ross Stripling in his debut outing after 71/3 innings in 2016. Later that summer, Roberts made the more difficult choice to end Rich Hill’s bid for a perfect game in Miami. In both cases, Roberts opted to avoid exposing his players to the threat of injury.
The decision on Friday followed the same logical pattern. Buehler had thrown 93 pitches, one shy of his professional high. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015. He is operating under a tightly monitored innings restriction this season. At 23, Buehler is the most promising arm in the Dodgers farm system — and he may become a mainstay in the rotation. Roberts reminded Buehler of these factors when the manager took the ball.
“He was totally complicit,” Roberts said. “Just understood where I was coming from, understood where the organization was coming from, what impact he has, how important he is for the organization this year, and going forward.”
With Hyun-Jin Ryu out until after the All-Star break because of a torn groin muscle, the Dodgers need a fifth starter. Buehler has excelled in his three opportunities. He has posted a 1.13 earned-run average and struck out 19 batters. He fanned eight Padres on Friday as he pitched through an early-game downpour at Monterrey Stadium.
The Dodgers (15-17) have won three in a row. They have a chance to salvage this hellish trip, in which they lost three of four in San Francisco and then lost shortstop Corey Seager to season-ending elbow surgery. Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez led the offense with back-to-back homers in the second inning.
“This is my fourth year with the Dodgers, and it seems like we get going in May every year,” Hernandez said. “And May is here.”
Midway through the top of the third, the grounds crew intervened to fix the mound. The mud had clumped in the cleats of both Padres starter Joey Lucchesi and Buehler. Buehler struggled with his command in the third, issuing a pair of walks.
By the fourth, the weather had calmed down. A stoppage looked less likely. The Dodgers added a run in the sixth when Chase Utley hopped off the bench to hit a triple. Alex Verdugo brought Utley home with an RBI single.
Buehler went back out for the sixth. He struck out Padres rookie Javy Guerra and produced a pair of groundouts. Inside the dugout, Roberts came by. He informed Buehler that his pitch count featured no more room to maneuver.
“Obviously, I wanted to keep going,” Buehler said. “But obviously, it’s above my pay grade. They made the choice. And for these guys to finish it out, it’s pretty cool.”
The bullpen made things look easy. Cingrani escaped the jam he created. Garcia looked dominant. Liberatore stepped into a situation with more pressure than the average appearance with a four-run lead.
“I knew the position I was in going into that last inning,” Liberatore said. “I just wanted to give it my best effort. Really, throwing every pitch as hard as I could, trying to execute: Get three outs without giving up a hit.”
Liberatore did his job. In turn, the Dodgers made history.
“It’s a special night,” Roberts said, “for all of us.”
Urias making progress in rehab
Nearly 11 months after undergoing career-altering surgery on his left shoulder, Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias thinks he is close to pitching off a mound again.
“We’re at the point where the trainers are able to start planning out when I can actually get on the mound,” Urias said through his interpreter, Jesus Quinonez, on Friday afternoon at Monterrey Stadium. “I know that it’s something that is in the near-future. And that makes me very happy.”
The Dodgers have not outlined a timetable for Urias, outside of vague pronouncements from Roberts, who indicated this week that the Dodgers “were counting on” Urias to appear in the second half of 2018.
Urias made five starts in the majors last season before an examination revealed a tear in the anterior capsule of his shoulder. The procedure usually requires 12 to 14 months of rehab before a player can return to the field.
Urias has been cleared to play catch at a distance of 100 feet, Roberts said.
“Julio has been working really hard,” Roberts said. “Physically, he’s in great shape.”
Urias accompanied the team as something of an ambassador. He grew up in Culiacan, about 1,000 miles west of Monterrey. Fernando Valenzuela also made the trip. Valenzuela threw out the first pitch before Friday’s game.
Turner still ‘couple weeks’ away
All-Star third baseman Justin Turner (fractured wrist) began taking swings off a tee last week. He could take batting practice on the field with his teammates this weekend in Mexico. Even so, he still must complete a few days on a rehabilitation assignment, and he has not been cleared to play in games.
“To get him back with us, within the next couple weeks is fair,” Roberts said.
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes