Lacking best stuff, Buehler grinds out win

May 2nd, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- Following Saturday’s loss to the Tigers, manager Dave Roberts said the Dodgers “need to be better moving forward." Despite a strong 14-7 start to the season, the Dodgers have been a little more inconsistent than they would like. 

In their 6-3 win over the Tigers on Sunday at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers looked more like the team they expect to be, getting timely hits, a solid start from Walker Buehler and some solid play all around. 

“A couple of these losses, we made some mistakes, kind of beat ourselves,” said Dodgers star outfielder Mookie Betts. “Not to take credit from other ball clubs, because they played well. But just got to continue to play better baseball.” 

Here are three takeaways from the Dodgers’ win on Sunday: 

Buehler not as sharp, but effective again
Buehler had some ups and downs in April. The right-hander didn’t have his best overall command and was mostly unhappy with the effectiveness of his usually-dominant four-seam fastball.

In his final April start, Buehler put it all together, delivering a 10-strikeout performance against the D-backs en route to his first career complete-game shutout. On Sunday, Buehler wasn’t quite as dominant, but he was still effective, striking out five over five scoreless innings. 

“Not as sharp,” Buehler said of his outing. “Threw some good cutters in some spots and kind of got out of it. But good defense and good job behind the plate as well to get me through.” 

The first two innings were a struggle for Buehler, but the right-hander didn’t let the frames get away from him. He needed 23 pitches to get through the first, stranding two runners on base. In the second, the Tigers loaded the bases against Buehler, but he struck out Javier Báez on a slider down and away to end the threat.

As Buehler mentioned, his cutter was his best pitch again on Sunday. The right-hander threw the pitch 26 times and got nine of his 13 swings-and-misses with it. Opposing hitters came into Sunday’s game with a .211 average against Buehler’s cutter.

“I think I’m manipulating it a little bit more, getting it kind of up and down in terms of the shape,” Buehler said. “Then being able to change that a little bit.”

Though Buehler said he still has a lot to improve upon, the right-hander’s production hasn’t dipped. Through five starts, Buehler ranks 12th in the National League with a 2.12 ERA.

“To still manage an outing, to throw up some zeroes, get him back on line for his next start,” Roberts said. “That’s what top-end guys do.”

Kahnle’s return comes at perfect time

Tommy Kahnle wasted no time in showing what he can bring to the table. In his first appearance in a big league game since 2020, Kahnle struck out the first two batters he faced during a perfect sixth inning.

Kahnle’s return to the mound gives the Dodgers another much-needed high-leverage reliever in the bullpen. With Blake Treinen expected to miss a significant amount of time with a right shoulder injury, Kahnle could slot in as a late inning option for the Dodgers.

Roberts said he wanted to give Kahnle a soft landing, considering he’s missed almost two full seasons as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. But more performances like Sunday’s, and Kahnle will find himself pitching in more key spots.

“I’m good for whatever [Roberts] needs,” Kahnle said. “I’m here to win ballgames. That’s why I came here.”

Betts trending up, Bellinger struggling
After a slow first few weeks of the season, Betts might be starting to heat up at the plate for the Dodgers. A night after hitting a leadoff homer, Betts opened Sunday’s game with a single and ultimately came around to score the first run of the game. Betts leads the Majors with 21 runs scored.

In his last four games, Betts is 6-for-15 with a homer. His OPS is at .720, significantly up from the .646 clip he owned just a week ago.

“I feel like I’ve been starting to put some good swings on more pitches,” Betts said. “Obviously, it’s still a work in progress, but I think we're definitely taking steps in the right direction. Just gotta keep going.”

On the flip side, center fielder Cody Bellinger struggled at the plate this week after being named NL Player of the Week on Monday. Bellinger struck out two more times on Sunday, raising his season total to 28. He has punched out at least once in each of his last 11 games. Bellinger, however, snapped an 0-for-21 skid with an RBI double in the sixth.