Walker Buehler struck out the final two batters he faced in dominant fashion Saturday. He possessed his usual arsenal revolving around a sizzling fastball. He received an ovation as he walked off the mound after 21 pitches, an unusual reaction to a live batting practice session.
Brad Miller singled twice up the middle, but it was about as well as a first live batting practice session could have gone for the Dodgers right-hander.
“It was a good day for us,” manager Dave Roberts said. “A good day for Walker...Just the swings the guys were taking, talking to the catcher, Russell [Martin], talking to the hitters, the ball was coming out well. And so I talked with Walker after and he felt really good about it. So I’m encouraged.”
The successful exercise against Miller and minor league infielder Omar Estevez at Camelback Ranch was an imperative checkpoint for the 24-year-old Buehler. It was the first time he threw to batters this spring, a three-week delay part of the club’s caution.
The Dodgers have “slow-played” Buehler’s training since he reported to camp last month, decelerating his original timetable after his workload skyrocketed in 2018. Less than three weeks before opening day, the Dodgers say he remains on schedule for the beginning of the 2019 season.
He’s “champing at the bit, but understanding that there’s a process in place,” Roberts said. “So Walker understands the long view and just understanding that there’s a progression that needs to take place. And he’s on board.”
Roberts said that if all went well, Buehler would throw another live batting practice before pitching in a Cactus League game. Buehler hasn’t pitched in a game of any sort since tossing seven shutout innings in Game 3 of the World Series last October. The outing increased his innings total for 2018 — between the playoffs and regular season, and minors and major leagues — to 177. He logged 88⅔ innings in 2017.
Clayton Kershaw played catch from 150 feet and pitched on flat ground from the windup to a catcher, continuing his progression from shoulder inflammation. Roberts indicated Kershaw’s next step could be throwing a bullpen session. Kershaw, 30, hasn’t thrown off a mound since mid-February.
Roberts acknowledged Kershaw isn’t on a “regular” schedule to start on opening day, March 28, but said that “doesn’t close the door” on Kershaw making the start. Kershaw has started on opening day for the last eight seasons. Roberts insisted that streak isn’t a factor in the club’s handling of him.
“It’s purely, 100%, practical,” Roberts said. “And I think it’s great and it’s a tribute to his career and longevity but, speaking for Clayton, the most important thing is he pitches when he’s ready. So that’s a cherry on top, to add another opening day start for him.”
Jaime Jarrin, the longest-serving broadcaster in the majors, returned to Dodgers camp Saturday to call his first game on the radio since his wife, Blanca, died Feb. 28. He will call the team’s game Sunday on KTNQ-AM (1020), two more next weekend, and the three-game Freeway Series against the Angels before the regular season begins.