Dodgers takeaways: Tommy Kahnle finally debuts, Julio Urías to face Giants and more

The Dodgers' Cody Bellinger reacts during an at-bat against the Braves
The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger has cooled off after boasting one of the hottest bats in baseball.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The Dodgers won’t look back on the past week as one of their finest this year.

They lost a division series to the Arizona Diamondbacks thanks to sloppy play and unproductive offense. Their bullpen faltered for one of the first times this season on Saturday, leading to a loss against the Detroit Tigers on the night Clayton Kershaw set the club’s career strikeout record.

Even after they pulled out Sunday’s rubber match against the Tigers, manager Dave Roberts and his players echoed the same message.


“The last week I don’t think we’ve played really good baseball,” Roberts said.

“Going forward,” added outfielder Mookie Betts, “we have to be better.”

Nonetheless, the Dodgers are still 14-7 and begin the month of May tied for the lead in the division, with a big two-game series against the San Francisco Giants on deck this week.

Here are four takeaways on where the Dodgers stand:

Kahnle back, ready for leverage role

Sixteen months after signing with the Dodgers in December 2020, and almost two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August of that year, Tommy Kahnle took the mound for the Dodgers in a regular season game for the first time Sunday afternoon.

The right-hander was impressive in his team debut, pitching a scoreless sixth inning with two strikeouts. His fastball was sharp, touching 98 mph. His changeup was even better, inducing a whiff all three times it was swung at.

“It was a pretty special day,” said Kahnle, an eight-year MLB veteran who got hurt while pitching for the New York Yankees in 2020. “It’s been a long road, it really has.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers have agreed to a two-year deal with former New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox reliever Tommy Kahnle.

After signing a two-year deal with the Dodgers two offseasons ago, Kahnle spent most of 2021 rehabilitating in Arizona, “grinding away” through the monotonous daily routine of recovery.

He was pitching again by the start of this spring, but couldn’t get built up in time for opening day. Instead, he went out on a minor-league rehab assignment that he completed this week.

The right-hander acknowledged the process took longer, and was mentally harder, than he ever expected.

“Now,” he added, “I’m just excited to be here and help the team.”

Kahnle’s return couldn’t have come at a better time for the Dodgers, either.

With set-up man Blake Treinen out for the foreseeable future with a shoulder injury — Roberts reiterated Sunday that Treinen’s recovery is “gonna be a longer process” — Kahnle could help compensate in key leverage innings.

“He’s going to be a leverage guy for us going forward,” Roberts said, noting that Kahnle’s fastball-changeup arsenal can be effective against both right- and left-handed hitters.

“To kind of get that first one under his belt, I know there was a lot of adrenaline, emotions.”

Bellinger cooling off

The Dodgers' Cody Bellinger walks to the dugout after striking out.
The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger walks to the dugout after striking out against the Diamondbacks on Wednesday in Phoenix.
(Matt York / Associated Press)

Two weeks ago, Cody Bellinger had one of the hottest bats in baseball.

The last seven days, however, it cooled off again.

Bellinger went just one for 22 in six games against the Diamondbacks and Tigers, striking out eight times while drawing just one walk. His lone hit came Sunday, when he pulled an RBI double down the right-field line.

Any hope the team had that he’d rounded a corner paused, with the center fielder enduring the latest dip in his roller coaster start to the season.

Roberts said there was “a lot more lift” in Bellinger’s swing in recent days, following a three-homer performance the prior week that earned him NL player of the week honors.

“In my eyes, he needs to get back to the middle of the field, he needs to get back to more of a line drive approach,” Roberts said. “Pitches that he was squaring up to the big part of the field early on, are popped up [now].”

Bellinger did have a good week defensively, making several impressive catches in center field. However, almost a month into the season, his overall batting numbers continue to fluctuate, with his batting average down to .208 and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage at just .715.

Buehler leaning on cutter

Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler throws to home.
Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler throws to the plate against the Tigers on Sunday in Los Angeles.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Though he has pitched 14 scoreless innings during his past two starts, Walker Buehler is still trying to find a consistent feel for most of his arsenal right now.

The one exception: His cutter, which has emerged as perhaps his best pitch during the first month of the season.

Buehler rode the cutter during his five-inning start Sunday, throwing it 28% of the time. Of the 20 times the Tigers swung at it, nine were whiffed and six were fouled back. It accounted for three strikeouts. It also induced a key double play in the fourth inning.

“Threw some good cutters in some spots,” Buehler said.

Named the opening day starter for the first time in his career, Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler always makes quite an impression on those around him.

Buehler didn’t throw a cutter during his brief debut season in 2017. But since 2018, it has become an increasingly important part of his mix, now trailing only his fastball in usage rate.

This year, he’s getting some of his best results with the pitch, too. Opponents are batting just .222 against it and whiffing on swings almost one-third of the time.

“I think I’m manipulating it a little bit more,” Buehler said, “getting it kind of up and down in terms of the shape, and then being able to change that a little bit.”

Pitching plans for Giants series

Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urías works against a Padres batter April 22 in San Diego.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The Dodgers tweaked the order of their pitching rotation ahead of this week’s two-game series against the San Francisco Giants.

Julio Urías was pushed forward to start Tuesday’s game (he will still be on normal rest because of Monday’s off day). Wednesday’s starter remains to be determined, with the Dodgers weighing whether to go with Tony Gonsolin (who had been a spot ahead of Urías in the rotation to start the year), a bullpen game or some other combination.

“We haven’t committed to Wednesday,” Roberts said.

Pitcher Julio Urías is a whole new man on and off the mound after breakout year with the Dodgers, columnist Dylan Hernández says.

The Dodgers are also beginning to plan for a busy upcoming stretch in their schedule. After their two-game set with the Giants, they have an off day Thursday, then begin a stretch of 31 games in 31 days that will last until June 5.

Roberts said the team will likely need an extra starter for at least part of that stretch, but those plans haven’t been finalized yet.