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Buehler aiming for spot in Dodgers' rotation

Following rapid rise through system, LA's top prospect eager to make mark
MLB.com @kengurnick

LOS ANGELES -- For most of Spring Training last year, to see pitching prospect Walker Buehler, you had to journey to Minor League camp, where you would be joining, well, about the entire Dodgers front office.

This spring will be different. The 23-year-old Buehler's meteoric trip from Class A Advanced last April to a September callup puts him in big league camp with an outside shot to make the starting rotation and an odds-on shot to be the most intensely watched young Dodgers pitcher since Julio Urias.

LOS ANGELES -- For most of Spring Training last year, to see pitching prospect Walker Buehler, you had to journey to Minor League camp, where you would be joining, well, about the entire Dodgers front office.

This spring will be different. The 23-year-old Buehler's meteoric trip from Class A Advanced last April to a September callup puts him in big league camp with an outside shot to make the starting rotation and an odds-on shot to be the most intensely watched young Dodgers pitcher since Julio Urias.

The Dodgers need Buehler to fulfill his promise as the organization's top pitching prospect in place of the 21-year-old Urias, who previously wore that label. Urias is still rehabbing from last June's shoulder surgery.

Dodgers' Spring Training info

The Dodgers tried to protect Urias utilizing an unusual start-and-stop training regimen last spring, with disappointing results. They acknowledge Buehler -- MLB Pipeline's No. 5-ranked right-handed pitching prospect -- will require careful handling.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"[We'll] probably be a little conservative early on," general manager Farhan Zaidi said. "Kind of build him up, maybe a little more conservatively than the typical starting pitcher, just because of how much he pitched in 2017 and coming off the Tommy John surgery.

"We would certainly expect by the end of camp, or in the later stages of camp, he'll be caught up with the other guys. We expect him to get stretched out as a starter."

In his first full season since the 2015 elbow operation, Buehler pitched 88 2/3 innings with 125 strikeouts last season. Most of that was Minor League domination as a starter, glimpses of which he showed working out of the bullpen for the Dodgers, for whom he struggled (7.71 ERA in 9 1/3 innings).

Video: Top Prospects: Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers

"Getting back into starting, I'll get settled in better maybe, have a full routine, and hopefully it brings more success," Buehler said.

While Zaidi's comments reflect a patient plan, the Dodgers project to have less starting-pitching depth than a year ago. Urias won't pitch off a mound in Spring Training and isn't viewed as a viable option until around the All-Star break. Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir have been traded, as has Trevor Oaks.

Video: Roberts discusses Buehler's role on Dodgers staff

Without the return of Yu Darvish or another free-agent starter signing, the projected rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu means Buehler would slot in sixth. Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart also are expected to open camp as starters.

Dodgers focused on one more win in 2018

Buehler's Cactus League debut last spring provided one of the more remarkable scenes of camp. Buehler entered a late-March game against the Reds in the seventh inning, walked the first batter he faced, then served up a mammoth home run to Adam Duvall. Veteran second baseman Chase Utley -- who had never met Buehler -- came to the mound, shook Buehler's hand and introduced himself.

"I'm Chase," he said. "That was a long fly ball. Try to get some outs."

Buehler retired the next three batters.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Walker Buehler