Dodgers’ Walker Buehler dazzles with 15-strikeout complete game against Padres
The pitches came fast and furiously, mid-90-mph fastballs that set up three straight devastating two-strike sliders. In consecutive at-bats to begin Saturday’s game, Fernando Tatis Jr., Wil Myers and Manny Machado each struck out.
A week after getting roughed up in Washington, Walker Buehler was locked in from the start.
“Right then, I thought his delivery was so clean,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “That first inning really set the tone.”
Buehler dominated the San Diego Padres, tossing his second career complete game in a dazzling 15-strikeout display. After he recorded the final out in the Dodgers’ 4-1 win — with a two-strike 94-mph cutter Eric Hosmer couldn’t catch up to — the 54,010 at Dodger Stadium gave him a raucous standing ovation.
“It’s hard to imagine having more command than he did tonight, just being ahead, ” Roberts said. “He was as dominant as you can be.”
The Dodgers didn’t get a big-name reliever at the trade deadline but are confident they have enough dynamic arms to form a championship-level bullpen come October.
A first-time All-Star this year, Buehler was uncharacteristically clunky against the Nationals in a seven-run (four earned) outing last Sunday. Back at home Saturday — he entered the night with a career 2.51 ERA in Dodger Stadium — he displayed perhaps the most important trait shared among the Dodgers’ starting rotation.
“We’re pretty process-oriented around here,” Buehler said. “I don’t know if one game changes a whole lot. Obviously wanted to get back on track.”
Buehler had a strikeout in every inning, didn’t issue a walk and didn’t allow an extra-base hit until a Manuel Margot solo home run in the eighth.
Trouble was rare and quickly handled. A two-on, no-out jam in the fourth, after a leadoff error and single, was negated with a strikeout of Hosmer and double play from Hunter Renfroe. Two innings later, he got another inning-ending double-play against Myers.
“He was keeping them on their heels, going in [and] out,” catcher Will Smith said. “They were constantly behind.”
At 25, Buehler (10-2) became the youngest Dodgers pitcher to reach double-digit wins in a season since Clayton Kershaw in 2013. He registered his fourth double-digit strikeout game this year (he hasn’t walked a batter in any of them). And he needed only 110 pitches to do it.
“I learned how to do that when I was on a pitch count here early in my career,” Buehler said. “Having 75 or 80 pitches, and wanting to get deep into games, teaches you that stuff.”
At the plate, Justin Turner opened the scoring with a fourth-inning solo homer off Padres starter Cal Quantrill (4-3). Smith sparked a three-run fifth inning — two were unearned — by aggressively stretching for a leadoff double on a shallow blooper to left.
Adam Kolarek says he was surprised the Tampa Bay Rays traded him, but the reliever is eager to be a valuable contributor to the Dodgers’ bullpen.
“He was thinking two out of the box,” Roberts said. “Those are things that, when you’re as talented as we are, when you can layer that in, it makes this team that much more unique.”
So does the pitching staff’s ability to bounce back.
The Dodgers’ three top starters — Buehler, Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu — have been able to quickly rebound from their rare rough starts all year. Since the beginning of May, they have 40 quality starts in 47 opportunities, 12 of which belong to Buehler.
Kershaw remains the only one of the three who had consecutive nonquality starts in that span, and that was when he threw at hitter-friendly Chase Field and Coors Field in back-to-back outings.
As a result, the Dodgers have suffered only two losing streaks of more than two games en route to the best record in baseball.
“We have a lot of good starting pitchers,” Roberts. “That’s what’s allowed us to sustain this momentum all season.”
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