ATLANTA -- As the Dodgers attempted to stay alive and force a Game 7 in the National League Championship Series against the Braves, they needed one ace to come up big in the absence of another.
The Dodgers scratched Max Scherzer from his Game 6 start on Saturday because of right arm fatigue. Instead, they turned to right-hander Walker Buehler on short rest. Buehler, who has made three starts this postseason, last pitched on Tuesday in Game 3 and was slated to take the mound for a potential Game 7 on Sunday.
Buehler allowed four runs on seven hits in four innings, giving up a three-run homer to Eddie Rosario that gave Atlanta a three-run lead in his final inning. He struck out six and walked three.
The Dodgers lost, 4-2, and the Braves advanced to the World Series against the Astros, beginning Tuesday at Minute Maid Park.
“We feel really good [about Buehler],” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts prior to the game. “Most importantly, Walker feels really good. I don't want to put a number on what it's going to be like. It's about execution, performance. But as far as physical, mental, he feels fantastic.”
After pitching in relief in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the Giants on Oct. 14, Scherzer admitted to having “dead arm” during his 79-pitch start in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Braves on Sunday. He struck out seven but allowed two runs on four hits over 4 1/3 innings in that no-decision.
Scherzer prepared to start Game 6, but the soreness never totally went away, and when Buehler and Scherzer played catch on Friday, it became apparent to the Dodgers that the best move would be to flip them in the rotation.
“When we came in yesterday, Walker and I were playing catch at the same time, and he felt he was in a much better spot than I was,” Scherzer said. “[Pitching coach Mark Prior] also agreed with that. Everybody thought, we all saw it together, that Walker was our best option to pitch Game 6, and I’ll give you whatever I got for Game 7.”
The Dodgers could have opted to go with a bullpen game Saturday in place of Scherzer, but they believed starting Buehler on short rest gave them the best chance to keep their season alive and force a Game 7.
Buehler made his first career start on short rest in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Giants on Oct. 12, allowing one run over 4 1/3 innings.
“This is something that he's only done [once] in his career, so that's an obvious challenge and an unknown,” Roberts said. “But as far as his body, mind, I feel very confident. … Even Max said it: ‘Walker was in a much better position to make this start today than I was.’ So he's aware of that.”
For the Dodgers, this was just the latest in a string of untimely injuries. They lost left-handed ace Clayton Kershaw for the season to a left forearm strain on Oct. 1. First baseman Max Muncy then suffered a dislocated left elbow on Oct. 3 and missed the postseason.