At the risk of looking ahead, the Dodgers have been looking ahead to the World Series all year. So, when Walker Buehler is striking out a pair of batters an inning in the best-of-three Wild Card Series opener and he doesn’t make it through half the game, it’s just the Dodgers threading the needle between winning now and later.
Dealing with a finger blister that clearly is an issue, Buehler still struck out eight in only four innings. He was followed by five scoreless innings from the best bullpen in the league and the Dodgers beat the shorthanded Brewers Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium, 4-2, with Clayton Kershaw on deck and a chance to punch a ticket to the bubble and the next round.
Buehler and the Dodgers have downplayed the blister for nearly a month, but actions speak louder. It is serious enough for Buehler to seek advice from former teammate and the dean of pitching blisters, Rich Hill. And serious enough that management guarded his usage in September, and again Wednesday night, in an attempt to keep him on the mound for three more series.
“It is what it is and we’re managing it,” Buehler said of the blister.
He was done after a 24-pitch fourth inning, allowing an opposite-field double to Daniel Vogelbach and a two-run bomb to Orlando Arcia on an 0-2 pitch after being staked to a 3-0 lead. Arcia homered off Buehler in the 2018 NL Championship Series and has three in eight postseason games against the Dodgers.
"I had him 0-2, I can't miss that much,” Buehler said of the homer. “It's supposed to be up above his belt and I threw it about as middle-middle as I could."
Buehler threw only six cutters -- the pitch that irritates the blister the most -- and, at 72 pitches, he was replaced by Julio Urías for the fifth.
“There have been times where the blister shows itself a little bit,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It wasn’t necessarily the pitch count. I just felt that, right there, we could end feeling good about things where they’re at and get him ready for his next start.”
So, looking ahead to that “next start” was actually part of the plan, which the Dodgers were able to pull off because they are deep enough to have starters Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May standing by to eat innings -- like the three Urías gobbled Wednesday.
“We just didn’t know what we were going to get from Walker,” said Roberts. “It worked seamless. Hopefully, we got him out when we needed to. As he gets an extra day, as we look out to the next series, then, if we’re fortunate to get there, hopefully we’re in a better spot than we were today and continually getting better.”
Urías followed Buehler with three scoreless innings and five of the Dodgers’ 15 strikeouts.
“I thought Urías did a great job,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. “He pitched really well. That was kind of the key. We got Buehler out of the game early-ish, you know? But Urías gave them multiple innings and did it really well. I thought he was a big key to the game for them.”
“It was good to see him get the job done. It just didn’t seem like the stuff had the teeth that I’ve seen in recent outings,” Roberts said. “I’m going to go back and look at the video. The cutter didn’t have the life in the zone and the breaking ball was cast more than I’ve seen it.”
The Dodgers’ offense wasn’t as explosive as it’s been this year and didn’t need to be. Milwaukee’s sub starter, Brent Suter, walked four in a two-run first inning. Mookie Betts, in his first postseason game as a Dodger, doubled twice, drove in a run and scored another. Corey Seager slugged an insurance homer in the seventh inning, a 447-foot blast.