Walker Buehler and Sonny Gray are strikingly similar in personality. They are easygoing yet competitive, polite yet to the point. They are products of Vanderbilt, the Nashville university that has as rich a baseball tradition as any school in the country.
Buehler, 24, outdueled Gray, 29, on Wednesday in the Dodgers’ 3-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Both pitchers were nearly flawless until A.J. Pollock hit a three-run home run in the sixth inning, crushing Gray’s signature curveball into the left-center-field stands.
No doubt the two pitchers will rehash the game during the offseason at one of the several functions Vanderbilt hosts. Once a Commodore, always a Commodore.
“A lot of players come back during the offseason,” Buehler said. “It’s a Vandy thing.”
Both were first-round picks, Gray by the Oakland Athletics in 2011 and Buehler by the Dodgers in the 2015 draft. They first met when Gray attended an NCAA subregional game Buehler pitched in 2015.
“I enjoy Walker,” Gray said. “He’s as good as they get. We’ve hung out more than a handful of times.”
Kemp left with memories
Matt Kemp, a Dodger, a former Dodger, a Dodger again, and a former Dodger again, spent the last three days manning left field at Chavez Ravine for the Reds. Memories were unavoidable.
“I was thinking about a lot of great times I had,” he said. “Unforgettable times coming up through the system and into the big leagues with my best friends. That’s rare.”
One of those friends is Russell Martin, who also is a Dodger, a former Dodger and a Dodger again. They both made their Dodgers debuts in 2006 and were teammates through 2010 when Martin was non-tendered. Kemp stayed through 2014 and was traded to the San Diego Padres.
The both cut their teeth at Chavez Ravine, learned baseball is a business, made a lot of money, were cast away unceremoniously, yet were warmly welcomed back. Kemp was an All-Star last season as a Dodger, and helped the team reach the World Series.
“Matt did a lot of learning at the big league level,” Martin said. “He had to adapt to the quality of baseball at the highest level without a lot of experience.”
Said Kemp: “Winning a World Series here was always the goal and I’m grateful to have had the chance. Things don’t always work out the way you plan.”
He felt the same about the Dodgers’ three-game sweep over the Reds. On Monday, Kemp drove in the go-ahead run with a single in the ninth inning only to become an afterthought when the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson hit a two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the inning.
“I texted Joc after the game and gave him a piece of my mind,” Kemp said, smiling.
On Wednesday, Kemp came up with one out in the ninth and Yasiel Puig on third base with the Reds down 3-1. He just missed squaring up a pitch from Kenley Jansen, hitting a sacrifice fly to left field that cut the deficit to one but put the Dodgers one out from victory.
“Couldn’t get the job done,” Kemp said. “It’s a tough game. I learned that long ago.”
Hill dominates rehab start
Rich Hill gave up two hits, struck out eight and walked none in four scoreless innings of a rehabilitation start for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga on Wednesday, putting the Dodgers left-hander on track to join the rotation for next week’s series in Chicago against the Cubs.
Hill, sidelined by a minor left-knee sprain in mid-March, threw 54 pitches, 38 for strikes, and another 12 to 15 pitches in the bullpen after he exited the game at Lake Elsinore.
He gave up a bunt single and an infield single in the first inning and retired the last 10 batters he faced. His fastball ranged from 89 to 91 mph, and his curve, which he used to finish five of his strikeouts, was sharp.