Walker Buehler doesn’t know if it’s causation or a coincidence but these are the facts after his 16-strikeout complete game Friday against the Colorado Rockies: Since deciding to take a more hands-on approach in his pregame meetings with his catcher and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt on start days, he has allowed three runs in 31 innings with 42 strikeouts and one walk across four starts.
“Obviously, doing your own stuff and knowing it in your head gets you a little bit more convicted,” Buehler said, “and that’s never a bad thing.”
On May 29, Buehler gave up five runs in five innings against the New York Mets. The outing prompted Buehler to change his preparation for the next start with rookie catcher Will Smith behind the plate. Before facing the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 3, Buehler, for the first time in his career, decided to lead the pregame scouting meeting with Honeycutt and Smith.
“In this game, you got to evolve,” the 24-year-old Buehler said the next day. “I think that’s where the next step for me is, taking more ownership of what I do out there.”
That night, Buehler held the Diamondbacks to one run with a season-high 11 strikeouts across a season-high eight innings. He allowed two hits and walked none. The success prompted him to continue heading the pregame meetings. He then tossed 14 scoreless innings over his next two outings before taking the ball Friday.
“I just think the more prepared you are, the better your clarity is in what you want to do with a hitter,” Honeycutt said. “I think he sees the way our other guys go. Pretty much all the veteran guys do more.
“But I think it’s whatever works for each guy. You have to experiment and figure out what’s best for the individual. I just see him maturing to a point where he’s taken more responsibility over his own game.”
The additional preparation coincides with Buehler finding his form after an odd spring training in which he was slowed down and made just one three-inning start. On Friday, he reached a different stratosphere. The right-hander compiled 16 strikeouts without walking a batter. He allowed three hits, including two home runs, and threw a career-high 111 pitches.
He began the game by retiring the first 11 batters he faced. His final pitch, a 98-mph fastball, struck out Nolan Arenado swinging. It was Buehler’s 15th swinging strikeout and the 23rd swing-and-miss he generated. He had another 23 pitches called for strikes.
In his last four starts, he’s held opponents to a .121 batting average. The three runs he’s given up have all been on solo home runs and he’s pitched at least seven innings in each game.
Whether the extra preparation is the primary reason for the success, Buehler doesn’t know. But it hasn’t hurt.
“I think you’ve seen more of what he’s definitely capable of doing,” Honeycutt said.
Matt Beaty, who played at Belmont University in Nashville, got a nice social media shout-out Saturday from another — and a little more famous — Belmont alum after his game-winning two-run homer in the ninth inning Friday night.
“A Belmont alum hit a walk-off home run for the Dodgers last night!” tweeted country music star Brad Paisley, he of the 4.45 million Twitter followers. “And in college, I didn’t even know we had a baseball team! Way to go Matt Beaty.”
David Freese was unavailable to pinch-hit Saturday because of a sore knee and might be headed for the injured list, manager Dave Roberts said. ... Max Muncy, who led off the second inning Saturday with a double to left field, has reached base safely in 31 consecutive games, the longest streak by a Dodger since Yasiel Puig reached in 33 straight games from April 25 to June 1, 2014. … The Dodgers have not decided on a rotation replacement for Rich Hill, who was placed on the injured list because of a flexor tendon strain Thursday, but they will not call up a pitcher from the minor leagues to start Tuesday night’s game at Arizona. “It’s going to be somebody from our roster,” Roberts said Saturday. “One of the guys in the bullpen will start.” Right-hander Ross Stripling and left-hander Julio Urias are the leading candidates. … Sunday starter Kenta Maeda is 6-3 with a 2.26 ERA in 16 career games — nine of them starts—against the Rockies, limiting them to a .195 average and 1.02 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched).
Staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.