Dodgers can thank Rich Hill for Walker Buehler’s blistering return in win over A’s
To combat a pesky blister that sent him to the injured list twice in the last month, Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler sought the advice of an expert, Minnesota left-hander and former teammate Rich Hill, whose 3½ years in Los Angeles (2016-2019) were marred by blisters on his pitching fingers.
Hill, 40, would do anything to speed the healing process — he tried laser therapy, drinking apple cider and vinegar, and urinating on his hand to harden the skin.
Buehler didn’t go into details of his discussions with Hill, but whatever he and soft-tissue specialist Yosuke “Possum” Nakajima, the Blister Whisperer of the team’s medical staff, did to treat the index finger of his pitching hand helped.
Buehler threw four scoreless innings, allowing one hit, striking out six and walking one, and had no visible problems with the blister in Thursday night’s 5-1 win over the Oakland Athletics in Dodger Stadium.
“Any blister issue, I think Rich Hill is going to be one of the first people on the list, and we’re pretty close, so it was not a stretch to give him a call,” Buehler said. “He just told me some treatment things to do, how to handle it mentally. He’s a great resource. He’s been in this game for a long time, and he definitely helped.”
Buehler threw 65 pitches, 45 for strikes. He was targeted for five innings and 75 pitches but needed 25 pitches to complete the fourth, the last-inning workload contributing to the earlier hook.
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Buehler leaned heavily on a four-seam fastball that averaged 97.2 mph and touched 99 mph, throwing his heater 41 times. He threw 19 knucklecurves, which put more pressure on the fingertips, and five cut-fastballs.
“I would say my stuff tonight was probably as good as it has been this year,” Buehler said. “The blister wasn’t an issue at all. We figured some things out and how to treat it, and moving forward, I hope it’s not a problem.”
But blisters can be unpredictable. They can seem healed and flare up without warning. It’s not the kind of problem you want your best pitcher to have entering the playoffs, but manager Dave Roberts said he is “very confident” that Buehler will be ready for the playoffs.
“Walker is very in tune with his delivery, and you certainly trust the compete, the history of how he’s pitched in big games,” Roberts said. “And now with the health as far as the finger … everything for me is lined up.”
Buehler threw only 72/3 innings in the last month before Thursday, his blister first surfacing after an Aug. 21 game against Colorado. His second start back from the IL, on Sept. 8 at Arizona, ended after 22/3 innings because of the blister.
Buehler threw a 90-pitch simulated game last Saturday, his finger uncovered for 75 pitches and covered for the final 15 — an effort Roberts hoped he would match against the A’s.
“I just thought it was really good,” Roberts said. “And to get him out of there with a net positive for the outing was the prudent thing to do.”
Buehler is only 26 and in his third full big league season, but he’s already established himself as a big-game pitcher, with a 1-1 record and 2.72 ERA in six postseason starts in which he struck out 44 and walked 10 in 361/3 innings.
He blanked Washington on one hit over six innings with eight strikeouts in a 6-0 win in Game 1 of the NL Division Series last year and allowed one run and four hits and struck out seven in 62/3 innings of a 7-3 Game 5 loss to the Nationals.
Clayton Kershaw has enjoyed a resurgent 2020, using an uptick in fastball velocity, his sharp slider and big-bending curve to go 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA in nine starts, but the 32-year-old left-hander does not possess the high-octane stuff and swagger of Buehler, who can overwhelm hitters.
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“You can’t overstate it,” Roberts said of the importance of having a dominant starter for a deep October run.
“The value of the top-end guys [are] to take down meaningful innings, to not overtax [the] bullpen, to dominate games, to cover a night of offense that you might not have to still win a baseball game.”
Three takeaways on the Dodgers
1. Will Smith followed first-inning singles by Mookie Betts and Justin Turner with a two-out RBI single to left, and he sparked a three-run sixth with a leadoff double to left. Since returning from the injured list on Aug. 23, the catcher has hit .324 (23 for 71) with four homers, eight doubles and 13 RBIs in 20 games.
2. Corey Seager continued his torrid September by crushing a first-pitch curve from Mike Fiers for a solo homer to left-center — his 15th of the season — for a 2-0 lead in the second. In 20 games this month, the shortstop is batting .346 (28 for 81) with six homers, five doubles, a triple and 16 RBIs.
3. Blake Treinen has some power of persuasion. The struggling reliever was not thrilled when, with two on and two outs in the seventh, manager Dave Roberts came to the mound. Left-hander Adam Kolarek was warm and ready to face Jake Lamb. But Treinen talked Roberts into leaving him in, and he struck out Lamb with a slider to end the inning.
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