The young right-handers, who made their 2020 spring debuts Saturday afternoon, could be keys to the Dodgers’ pitching staff for years to come.
Buehler is already there, of course. The 25-year-old is coming off an impressive 2019 season in which he earned his first All-Star selection. He started ’20 on a positive note, tossing two perfect innings in the Dodgers’ 14-2 split-squad win over the Rockies at Salt River Fields.
Could it be Buehler’s turn to join Kershaw and Price as Cy Young Award winners?
“I don’t know, that’s a long ways away,” Buehler said.
After coming up a bit short of reaching his 200-inning goal last season -- he tossed 182 1/3 -- Buehler hopes he reaches the mark this year for the first time. He went 14-4 with a 3.26 ERA in a career-high 30 starts in 2019.
Plus, Buehler didn’t have a normal Spring Training last year, as his throwing plan was adjusted due to him not being 100 percent healthy. This year, that won’t be the case.
“I think I’ll probably throw more games in the Cactus League this year than I have ever,” Buehler said. “It’s the same stuff, just trying to always get better. I don’t look at it as the beginning or the end of any of it -- I’m just trying to continue to do the stuff that I’ve been working on for years and years.”
Buehler looked strong against the Rockies, as he retired six of their regulars with no trouble. That included striking out Trevor Story on a 96 mph fastball and fanning Charlie Blackmon on a foul-tipped slider in the first.
“You just really don’t know how good Walker can be,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Obviously, the games that he’s pitched and in the big games, how he’s responded, is very telling. But I think for all of us, it’s exciting to see what’s next for him.”
Graterol also had a strong start to the spring, as he tossed a scoreless fourth inning in his Dodgers debut. He got Story to pop out and then retired Blackmon and Nolan Arenado on groundouts. His fastball sat at 97-99 mph.
It was an eventful offseason for Graterol, as he was nearly traded from the Twins to the Red Sox. However, concerns over his medical report led to Boston backing out of the deal, which also involved Los Angeles. After that three-team swap fell apart, the Dodgers and Twins made their own trade as Graterol came to L.A. and Maeda was sent to Minnesota.
“I’m very excited, obviously, to be on this team, to be with a team that gets to the postseason on a regular basis,” Graterol said through an interpreter. “The offseason was something I can’t control, and now it’s just time for me to focus on doing whatever I can to help out this team.”
Graterol could be a starter in the future, but for now, the Dodgers will utilize the 21-year-old as a reliever. Last year, Los Angeles’ bullpen had some struggles, so it’s possible Graterol could earn a spot on the Opening Day roster with a strong spring, despite only having 9 2/3 innings of big league experience, all of which came last season.
Roberts believes Graterol is capable of pitching high-leverage innings and getting both right- and left-handed hitters out.
“When that happens remains to be seen,” Roberts said. “But as far as the head and the mix, it’s pretty special.”