Buehler, Kimbrel falter as Dodgers' comeback falls short

May 31st, 2022

LOS ANGELES – With his pitch mix not as crisp as expected, Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler sent his glove flying, expressing pure frustration by launching his leather into the bat rack.

No less disappointed, closer Craig Kimbrel internalized his irritation after his first blown save of the season nullified a late comeback by the offense and left the Dodgers with a 6-5 defeat against the Pirates at Dodger Stadium on Monday night.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is confident both of his right-handers will find their way soon enough, but on Monday each showed that command issues remain a work in progress.

“He, like all of us, has high expectations for himself,” manager Dave Roberts said of Buehler. “I think, right now, he’s trying to figure it out on the fly, and I think the bottom line is that he’s just not commanding the baseball.”

Essentially it was two pitches that left Buehler unsatisfied. That both Pirates early home runs came on his signature fastball added context to the concern.

The Pirates’ Tucupita Marcano made his first career home run one to remember when he launched a 95.8 mph fastball from Buehler over the wall in right-center. That 3-0 lead in the second inning turned to 4-0 in the third when Bryan Reynolds added a solo home run on a 94.9 mph fastball from Buehler.

Otherwise, Buehler was able to bob and weave his way through his outing, recording seven strikeouts, his most since his 10-strikeout performance in his first career shutout at Arizona on April 25. But the perfectionist in Buehler did not allow him to savor any of it.

“I think it’s a blessing because he expects so much from himself,” Roberts said of Buehler’s tendency to show fire when the results are below expectations. “When it’s not going well, the way he thinks it should, there is a lot of frustration in there. But he can adjust and we’re confident that he will.”

And while it might have taken time to ride to the rescue, the offense did finally find a way to cover the early runs Buehler allowed. Hanser Alberto and Mookie Betts hit back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning. Edwin Ríos added his own home run in the sixth as the Dodgers cut the deficit to 4-3.

In the eighth inning, Justin Turner tied it with an RBI double and Chris Taylor gave the Dodgers a 5-4 lead with a bloop single to right-center. But with a chance to record his 11th save in 11 chances, Kimbrel gave up two runs in the ninth, although the Pirates went ahead 6-5 when Freddie Freeman could not handle a hard-hit ground ball at first base by Cal Mitchell.

“There’s nothing really to explain,” Freeman said. “Craig made the pitches to get us out of that inning in a tied ballgame and I didn’t make the play.”

Was there heavy sidespin on Mitchell’s ground ball?

“No. I missed it,” Freeman said.

While Kimbrel can appreciate his teammate taking ownership of the defeat, the right-hander admitted that his most recent outings have not been acceptable. While managing to earn a save in his previous two outings at Arizona, Kimbrel did give up three runs in the two innings on three hits and a walk.

“It’s something that I have been able to work through and [the two outings] didn’t hurt the team, but I haven’t really been like I should be,” Kimbrel said. “But I’m still battling and getting back to where I need to be and not really worried that it won’t happen at some point.”

Despite giving up runs in three consecutive outings, Roberts sounds committed to keeping an eight-time All-Star in Kimbrel as his closer.

“I’m not concerned, but I do think there are things we certainly have to clean up,” Roberts said. “In every outing there have been some good breaking balls, good fastballs and there have been ones that were not so good. There are cues that I know he leans on to have consistency, but we just have to keep working on them.”

Amid the concern, Betts did match Roy Campanella for the most home runs in Dodgers history during the month of May with 12. When Betts added a double in the ninth inning, it gave him a Dodgers record for May with 22 extra-base hits. Jackie Robinson had the previous record with 21 in 1949.

Given that Betts is now in his third season as Buehler’s teammate, he was asked if he appreciates the high expectations the Dodgers’ young staff ace has for himself.

“That’s how you are the best, that you don’t expect to lose,” Betts said of Buehler. “He holds himself accountable, which is a great thing from a No. 1 starter. He might not have pitched that great today, but at the end of the day, two home runs was all he really gave up and kept us in the game.”