Buehler behind schedule after time off

July 15th, 2020

LOS ANGELES -- Manager Dave Roberts conceded that co-ace is behind all other Dodgers starting pitchers in camp because “he took time off in quarantine.”

The Dodgers will open the season with a five-man rotation. Clayton Kershaw, Ross Stripling and Alex Wood have each pitched at least five innings in intrasquad games, Julio Urías three innings.

With the 60-game sprint of a regular season starting in only nine days, Buehler hasn’t appeared in a full intrasquad game yet. But Roberts said Buehler threw one-plus innings against hitters on Sunday when reporters were not present and will throw two-plus innings to hitters next.

“After that, his next outing will be an exhibition [Sunday, Monday or next Tuesday] or an intrasquad game,” Roberts said. “He’s just a little bit behind the other guys, but once the season starts, whatever he can give us with the extra pitchers on the staff will be sufficient.”

Buehler, who turns 26 on July 28, was an All-Star last year when he went 14-4 with a 3.26 ERA, 1.042 WHIP, making 30 starts and leading the club with 215 strikeouts. He pitched 182 1/3 innings, one-third of an inning behind team leader Hyun-Jin Ryu.

“Clayton, Ross, Woody threw throughout quarantine, and I think with Walker, he took some time off with the uncertainty and indecision and Mark [Prior, pitching coach] was in tune with it, so the buildup with Walker is just going to take a little longer,” Roberts said.

“Ultimately, if we get him when the season starts [throwing] three or four innings with some guys behind him, we’ll be fine. I think it was because he took time off in quarantine.”

In a season where slow starts for clubs could be insurmountable, having Buehler at less than 100 percent is suboptimal for the Dodgers, who already have lost David Price for the season after he decided not to pitch. Stripling, a former All-Star, is likely to take Price’s spot in the rotation.

The Dodgers really have nobody to take Buehler’s spot, so they will settle for three or four innings, as Roberts indicated. In addition to Price’s unexpected absence, offseason departures of veterans Ryu, Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill have depleted rotation depth. Management was hopeful that free-agent swingman Jimmy Nelson might be in the mix, but he had season-ending back surgery last week.

Josiah Gray, Mitch White and Victor Gonzalez (the latter pair scheduled to start Tuesday night’s intrasquad game) have been picking up starts missed by Price and Buehler.

Buehler had no known physical issues during Spring Training, where he made three starts and was built up to four innings when camp was suspended by COVID-19.

• Pedro Báez, A.J. Pollock and Scott Alexander finally reported to Summer Camp. All had been absent without an explanation from the club. Roberts said Báez threw on flat ground and will face hitters in “a couple of days.” Pollock has been working out and will see live pitching soon. Keibert Ruiz is the only player on the 40-man roster still absent.

• Roberts said he’s “a little bit” concerned that stringent local protocols requiring quarantining after coming in contact with a person testing positive for COVID-19 could put the Dodgers at a disadvantage to clubs in other jurisdictions. He said the restrictions have “potentially” kept some players out of Summer Camp.

• Mookie Betts and Joc Pederson homered off Mitch White in Tuesday night’s intrasquad game. Max Muncy, out more than a week after being hit by a pitch on his left ring finger, had his first in-game at-bats since, going 2-for-3 with a double. Muncy’s injury affects him more while fielding. “I said it the other day, I expect him to be our first baseman when the season starts and I still stand by that,” Roberts said.

• Closer Kenley Jansen, in his first outing since returning from COVID-19, retired all four batters he faced, which included striking out Corey Seager.

• Cinderella story Francisco “Chico” Herrera, the clubhouse attendant pressed into left-field duty, robbed Betts of extra bases with a running catch at the fence that triggered a double play. He hasn’t been allowed to bat by Roberts so as to preserve as many at-bats as possible for roster players, but he was used as a pinch-runner.