Buehler back healthy thanks to unlikely trio

September 25th, 2020

A former Dodgers pitcher, a physics graduate from Japan’s prestigious Chuo University, and a former rodeo bull rider made it possible for to pass a crucial test on Thursday night and the Dodgers to clinch home-field advantage for as long as they play this year, even in a neutral bubble site.

With his next assignment the Wild Card Series less than a week away, Buehler came off the injured list for a final tuneup with four scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ 5-1 win over the A’s. He didn’t go as deep as originally hoped, but he struck out six, allowed only one hit and the blister on his right index finger held steady.

Buehler said the finger wasn’t an issue “at all,” even though he repeatedly looked at it during the game. He threw frequent curves and slider, but only five cutters, which Roberts said caused the blister.

“We figured some things out on how to treat it and, moving forward, I hope it’s not a problem,” Buehler said.

With the win, the Dodgers (40-17) would serve as the "home" team throughout the postseason, including the World Series, should they advance. That means they'd bat last in all three games of the Wild Card Series, in Games 1, 2 and 5 of the Division Series, and in Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 of the Championship Series and World Series. They and Tampa Bay can both finish with the same overall record and intradivision record, but the Dodgers win the tiebreaker by virtue of the “last 20 games plus one” tiebreaker; they went 18-6 in their last 24 intradivision games, Tampa Bay went 17-7.

“Forty was a number we were shooting for,” said manager Dave Roberts.

It's hardly breaking news, but before the game Roberts said getting dominant pitching from Buehler and Clayton Kershaw “is everything” in the postseason. The only problem is, the Dodgers had seen little lately from Buehler, who had thrown only 7 2/3 real innings since Aug. 21 while being sidelined twice.

“That’s humbling for me to even be compared to Clayton,” said Buehler. “To be an important part in trying to win a championship is an important part for me. We want to win the whole thing and if I’m important to that, I’ll take that.”

After the game, Roberts said he is “very” confident Buehler is ready for the postseason, despite the interrupted last five weeks.

“Everything is lined up,” said Roberts, who declined to name a Game 1 starter.

Turns out, Buehler had some expert assistance to pass this test. First, the former Dodgers pitcher. That would be Rich Hill, the undisputed king of pitching blisters. Buehler reached out and Hill gave his advice.

“Any blister issue, I think Rich Hill’s going to be one of the first people on the list,” said Buehler. “He’s a great resource, definitely helped. Just treatment things to do and mentally how to handle it. There are weird parts to having a blister and thinking you can’t do what you usually do. Kind of keeping your confidence when you can’t prepare exactly how you want.”

Hill said the key to resolving his blister issue was to continue throwing with the blister covered, while receiving special treatment from the club’s training staff.

“I told him just keep it covered when you throw,” Hill, now with the Twins, explained in a text. “Use the laser to help it heal and Stan’s Rodeo Rub to toughen the skin.”

The physics grad is Yosuke “Possum” Nakajima, the Dodgers’ assistant trainer and blister specialist. One key to getting blisters to heal, Hill explained, was the use by Nakajima of low-level laser therapy that speeds healing of the wound.

And then there’s Stan’s Rodeo Rub. It was concocted by Stan Johnston, who, before a long tenure as a former Dodgers trainer, was a rodeo bull rider. In that other life, the rope that kept Johnston from flying off the bull tore up the skin on his hands. So, Johnston tinkered with some formulas and came up with a mixture that gained widespread acceptance throughout baseball, even today.