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Struggling Walker Buehler suffers shortest start of career as Dodgers fall to Mets

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler throws the ball.
Walker Buehler gave up five runs in 2⅓ innings in the Dodgers’ 9-4 loss to the Mets on Saturday night. It was just the second time in his career he failed to get out of the third inning in a start. He surrendered two homers.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)
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Last week, Walker Buehler chucked his glove in anger when he reached the dugout.

On Saturday night, he simply scratched his head, flipped off his cap and buried his face in a towel.

All season, Buehler and the Dodgers have maintained confidence in the right-hander’s tantalizing skill set. They’ve remained steadfast in their faith given his dominant track record. They’ve promised that, despite some early inconsistency, he eventually would start looking like his old self on the mound.

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This past week, however, Buehler’s season dropped to one new low, and then another — the Pittsburgh Pirates delivering the first blow in a four-run, six-inning start Monday, before the New York Mets administered a gut punch in Buehler’s shortest career start Saturday en route to a 9-4 defeat of the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

In 2⅓ innings, Buehler gave up five runs on five hits and two walks. He finished with as many strikeouts (three) as extra-base hits given up (a double and two home runs). And despite being gifted a 4-1 lead going into the third, he couldn’t escape the inning, failing to record at least nine outs in a start for only the second time in his career.

Mets slugger Pete Alonso watches his homer from the plate while Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes looks on.
Mets slugger Pete Alonso watches his third-inning, two-run home run Saturday off Walker Buehler. Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes is at right. Alonso homered twice and drove in five.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

“I’m trying to figure this out,” Buehler said. “I don’t like this any more than the next guy.”

Buehler’s issues Saturday were layered.

While he said he felt better about his command and velocity with the fastball — a trademark pitch that he’s struggled with this season — he still threw it for a strike just 16 of 30 times.

More problematic were his breaking pitches, which, unlike other starts when Buehler still managed to limit damage and work deeper into games, weren’t able to get him out of trouble.

The Dodgers will need pitcher Walker Buehler to pitch like the old Buehler if they want to win the World Series in October.

After striking out the first two batters of the night, Buehler hung a two-strike curveball that Francisco Lindor hammered to right for a solo home run.

Following a pair of walks to lead off the third, the first of which featured a couple of wide changeups and a high full-count fastball, Buehler threw a slider over the outer edge of the plate that Starling Marte lined to left for an RBI double.

One batter later, Buehler threw a similar pitch to Pete Alonso. The slugger crushed it to left for a back-breaking, two-run blast, putting the Mets back in front and prompting manager Dave Roberts to turn to the bullpen.

“Obviously, I know Walker’s frustrated,” Roberts said. “He’s competing his tail off. It was one of those things that when you’re going through it, things aren’t going your way, guys hitting great pitches.”

As Roberts came to the mound, Buehler rested a hand on his hip. He kept his gaze low as he walked off the field. Then he sat all alone on the bench for the rest of the inning, draping a towel around his face before disappearing into the clubhouse.

“It stinks to put your team in a hole after they score four runs for me,” Buehler said. “It’s more of the same frustration.”

The Dodgers (35-18) couldn’t get Buehler off the hook.

The Dodgers' Mookie Betts hits a three-run double in the second inning while Mets catcher Patrick Mazeika looks on.
The Dodgers’ Mookie Betts follows through on a three-run double in the second inning. Mets catcher Patrick Mazeika is at right.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

After scoring four runs in a second inning keyed by Mookie Betts’ bases-loaded, three-run double, the team struggled at the plate the rest of the night. They managed just six hits, went one for nine with runners in scoring position and saw Trea Turner’s hitting streak end at 26 games.

The bullpen had its own home run problems, with Justin Bruihl yielding a solo shot to Eduardo Escobar in the fourth and Brusdar Graterol giving up a three-run blast to Alonso in the seventh.

And on a night the Dodgers retired Gil Hodges’ No. 14, adding the legendary late first baseman to their ring of honor ahead of his upcoming Hall of Fame enshrinement this summer, it was Hodges’ other club — the one he managed to a World Series in 1969 and that also has his No. 14 retired — that was victorious in front of 50,165 at Chavez Ravine.

The game ended with an unusual sequence. At the start of the ninth, the Dodgers tried to bring position player Zach McKinstry in to pitch. The only problem: Major League Baseball has a rule barring position players from pitching in games separated by five runs or fewer.

When the umpires noticed the situation, they checked with the league offices in New York before crew chief CB Bucknor announced the rule over the stadium PA system.

“It was an oversight on my part,” Roberts said, acknowledging the Dodgers weren’t aware the rule — which was originally supposed to be implemented for the 2020 season but had been delayed because of the pandemic — was now in effect.

As the crowd booed, a hurried warmup ensued in the Dodgers bullpen for reliever Evan Phillips, who eventually emerged and pitched a scoreless ninth.

“Nothing’s normal about doing that,” Phillips said. “But physically, I was ready to pitch.”

Still, Buehler’s struggles earlier in the night loomed largest over postgame proceedings.

Buehler said there were moments, such as when he struck out the other three batters he faced in the first inning, when he was encouraged by his execution.

Roberts thought, overall, the right-hander’s “stuff was good, I really did.”

“He’s going to work it out,” Roberts added. “He’ll figure it out. I have all the confidence in that.”

However, there are only so many ways to spin Buehler’s results this season, which include a rotation-worst 3.84 ERA, a career-low strikeout rate, and a string of recent performances that have hardly been befitting of his title as staff ace.

“I want to be good, I want to help our team win,” Buehler said. “I’ve done that in the past. I want to get back to that.”

Rehab assignments

Andrew Heaney and Max Muncy began their rehab assignments with triple-A Oklahoma City on Saturday.

Heaney pitched three innings and gave up one run. Muncy went 0 for 3 with a walk while playing a full nine innings at third base.

Heaney is expected to make at least one more minor-league start before returning from a shoulder injury he suffered in April. Muncy’s plan remains undecided, as he recovers from a flare-up in the left elbow in which he suffered a torn ligament last season.

Clayton Kershaw will make a rehab start Sunday with class-A Rancho Cucamonga. He is slated to pitch three innings but could throw the equivalent of a fourth in the bullpen if all goes well.

Walker Buehler makes a quick exit in the third inning against a hot-hitting New York Mets team in the Dodgers’ 9-4 loss Saturday night.

The team hasn’t decided when Kershaw, who was 4-0 with a 1.80 earned-run average in five starts, will return, but he is expected to join the Dodgers on the road and throw a bullpen session Wednesday in Chicago, and Roberts said he could pitch during their series in San Francisco next weekend.

“We have a couple dates in mind,” Roberts said. “But I just want to make sure we get through this one.”

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