Walker Buehler grinds out ace-worthy effort in Dodgers’ win over Tigers

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler throws to the plate during the second inning.
Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler delivers during the second inning of a 6-3 win over the Detroit Tigers at Dodger Stadium on Sunday. Buehler hasn’t allowed a run in his last two starts.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The role of an ace comes with myriad responsibilities.

Opening day starts. Playoff outings. And, over the course of a season, the need to occasionally serve as a stopper for a pitching staff, putting an end to rough patches in a campaign before they become full-blown slumps.

That’s what Walker Buehler did for the Dodgers on Sunday.

With his team coming off three losses in its previous four games, Buehler wasn’t dominant against the Detroit Tigers. He gave up six hits. He dealt with traffic all day. He retired the side in order only once.


But he got the results he — and the team — needed anyway, pitching five scoreless innings to help the Dodgers win 6-3 and take two of three games against the Tigers this weekend at Dodger Stadium.

“It was a grind, they got the pitch count up, but he found a way to get through five innings,” manager Dave Roberts said. “That’s what top-end guys do.”

Sandy Koufax accomplished many incredible feats during his Dodgers career, but Clayton Kershaw’s longevity has allowed him to eclipse the Hall of Famer.

There were other contributors to Sunday’s victory. Freddie Freeman had two hits and an RBI. Trea Turner, Will Smith and Cody Bellinger also picked up RBIs. The Tigers committed a couple errors, too, leading to two unearned runs.

But Buehler was the biggest factor, following up his first major league shutout against the Arizona Diamondbacks last Monday by recording consecutive scoreless starts for only the fourth time in his career.

“Nice to kind of escape one, I guess, if you will,” Buehler said. “But you still want to be better.”

Indeed, the right-hander had to labor throughout the day.

In a 23-pitch first inning, Buehler issued a lead-off walk and deflected a comebacker that allowed Austin Meadows to reach for an infield single. But Buehler stranded both runners by fanning Miguel Cabrera with a cutter, one of nine whiffs he got with that pitch and his first of five strikeouts on the day.

The Tigers (7-14) made Buehler throw 19 pitches in the second, loading the bases before Javier Báez struck out on a late-sweeping slider to end the inning.

In the fourth, Tucker Barnhart and Akil Baddoo reached on softly hit infield singles before Buehler again got out of danger, getting Eric Haase to hit into an inning-ending double-play in the next at-bat.

As he walked back to the dugout, Buehler slapped his glove and pumped his fist in relief. Then he returned to the mound in the fifth and sandwiched strikeouts of Báez and Cabrera around a pop out to complete his day after 92 pitches.

“I don’t think he felt comfortable all day,” Roberts said. “The fastball velocity was good [but] I don’t think he commanded it. The breaking ball, I don’t think he had good feel with it. … But to be able to get through five was really big for us. Having a guy that’s dependable is important.”

The Dodgers (14-7) also had to grind at the plate Sunday.

Will Smith hits an run-scoring single off Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez in the first inning Sunday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

They strung together three opposite-field singles in the first inning, the latter an RBI hit from Smith in his first game this season as designated hitter.

In the second, Hanser Alberto and Gavin Lux went the other way with singles before Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario committed a throwing error, double-clutching a grounder before firing wide to first to allow a run to score.

Freeman and Trea Turner followed with RBIs in the next two at-bats — Freeman an opposite-field double, Turner a run-scoring groundout (one of four outs he made Sunday, snapping his 39-game on-base streak).

From there, the Dodgers were kept quiet by Eduardo Rodriguez until the sixth when Chris Taylor singled, Bellinger snapped an 0-for-21 skid with an RBI double down the right-field line, and Lux hit a bouncer that Báez misplayed at shortstop to let another run in.

Clayton Kershaw became the Dodgers’ all-time strikeouts leader, passing Don Sutton’s 43-year-old mark in the fourth inning of a 5-1 loss to the Tigers.

“Still got to do a better job of being consistent,” Mookie Betts, who went one for four with two runs, said of the offense. “But good to score some runs and do it in different ways.”

The Tigers added a couple runs late. Cabrera hit a two-run home run off Phil Bickford in the eighth. Candelario hit a solo home run in the ninth against Justin Bruihl.

Even after closer Craig Kimbrel came into the game — picking up his first save in two weeks and fourth of the season — the Tigers got the potential tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth.

But it proved to be too little, too late. Buehler had dropped the Tigers in too deep a hole, and made sure the Dodgers’ recent mini-skid went no further.