It took until the final week, but Walker Buehler, handled with acute care this spring after dealing with a problem he and the Dodgers have declined to specify, pitched in a Cactus League game Tuesday night. He was characteristically electric and he was atypically volatile, an apt combination for a live arm pitching in a competitive game for the first time in five months.
“A little erratic,” Buehler said. “A little all over the place. But that’s what these games are for.”
The 24-year-old Buehler tossed 46 pitches in 22/3 innings against the Cleveland Indians. He gave up three singles — to the first two hitters he faced and one to the final batter — and didn’t walk a batter. He struck out All-Star Jose Ramirez and journeyman Trayce Thompson. He didn’t give up a run while in the game, but was charged with one when reliever Yimi Garcia surrendered a two-out single upon his departure.
His fastball touched 99 mph in the first inning, but hovered between 96 and 98 mph for most of the outing, and he unloaded some of the other pitches in his arsenal.
“I think for me it’s kind of the whole bag, just trying to get a little feel for everything,” said Buehler, who finished third in the National League rookie-of-the-year voting last season. “And we did that tonight.”
But the Dodgers went slower than initially designed when Buehler reported to camp not “feeling right” after throwing a handful of bullpen sessions during the offseason and another in camp. Buehler and Roberts insisted Buehler wasn’t injured, but they elected to reboot him.
Despite the late start, Buehler will not begin the regular season on the injured list. He won’t start on opening day for the Dodgers, who haven’t yet officially named the person for the assignment after Clayton Kershaw was ruled out, but he will pitch on the first turn through the rotation.
“Once I’m kind of going, I’m going,” Buehler said. “As long as I get the feel, I’ll be fine.”
Before that, he will pitch in another exhibition game and stretch out to four innings or 60 pitches, whichever comes first, on Monday against the Angels at Angel Stadium in the second game of the three-game Freeway Series, Roberts said, before pitching in the Dodgers’ first series of the regular season against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
That would feel closer to the real thing, in a big league ballpark a few days before the regular season begins. Tuesday at Camelback Ranch was a start.