PHOENIX -- Walker Buehler had pitched eight electric innings. He had thrown 98 pitches. It was easily already one of the best starts by any pitcher in MLB in 2022. But he wasn’t satisfied.
And Buehler wasn’t done. So he walked into the visitors’ dugout at Chase Field and made that known.
“I’m not coming out of this game,” Buehler told Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who later referred to the exchange as a “fly-by.”
“I know Walker pretty well, so he deserved [the ninth], he earned it,” Roberts said.
Buehler returned to the mound -- just as he said he would -- and earned something else: his first career shutout. The 27-year-old right-hander became the first pitcher in baseball to throw a complete game this season, limiting the D-backs to three hits and striking out 10 over nine dominant innings in the Dodgers’ 4-0 win.
In the ninth, Buehler needed only 10 pitches. He got a first-pitch flyout against Daulton Varsho, then got Ketel Marte to fly out after three pitches, extending his streak of consecutive Arizona batters retired to 15. That ended when Buehler gave up a two-out single to David Peralta, but he responded by getting Christian Walker to line out and end the game on his 108th pitch of the night.
The shutout had been on Buehler’s mind, and he wasn’t going to miss that opportunity.
“You get through eight and you’ve never done that, I think it’s kind of hard to not have that emotion,” Buehler said.
It’s much rarer to see pitchers work complete games than it was in previous eras as teams are cautious while protecting arms for the long term. That’s especially been the case this April, when hurlers have routinely been pulled earlier than normal as they work to build up following a shortened Spring Training.
After all, it was only 12 days earlier that Los Angeles pulled Clayton Kershaw after seven perfect innings on 80 pitches in his season debut at Minnesota. But this was Buehler’s fourth start, and he had already thrown 98 pitches vs. Cincinnati on April 14. So Roberts knew after the seventh when Buehler wasn’t laboring and hadn’t faced many high-stress situations, while also still showing high velocity, that he may go the distance.
“You’ve seen how protective we are here, and I think that’s a good thing and the smart thing,” Buehler said. “But I think I would have been really upset, just because I haven’t done this before.”
It was Buehler’s third career complete game and his first since Aug. 3, 2019, vs. the Padres. He became the first Dodgers pitcher to throw a shutout since Hyun Jin Ryu on May 7, 2019, against the Braves, and the first to do so with three or fewer hits allowed since Kershaw on May 23, 2016, against the Reds.
Buehler hadn’t completed more than 5 2/3 innings in any of his first three starts while posting a 4.02 ERA and 1.47 WHIP over that span. His velocity was down, but Roberts believed that was a byproduct of the shortened spring. He thought Buehler needed to do a better job of sequencing his pitches in order to get better results, like he has for much of his six-year big league career.
Buehler did a great job of that Monday. His four-seam fastball (95.4 mph) and cutter (91.7) velocities were both up, and he combined to throw those pitches 61 times. His best offspeed offering was his knuckle curve, which he threw 28 times and used to get six called strikes and four whiffs.
“His fastball was really good tonight, his command was there. His curveball was as spot-on as I have seen it. And then just kind of mixing the others,” Dodgers catcher Will Smith said. “We just kind of went right at them and they didn’t really know what to do with it.”
The D-backs’ hitters could tell Buehler was in top form, too.
“You’ve just got to tip your cap to a guy like that,” Arizona designated hitter Seth Beer said. “He pitched a heck of a game.”
Buehler prides himself on eating innings for the Dodgers, which he did while throwing a career-high 207 2/3 frames in 2021. A native of Lexington, Ky., Buehler said he was inspired in his youth by Bronson Arroyo, who threw 199 or more innings every year from 2005-13 for the nearby Reds.
But if Monday’s ninth inning had gone too long, there would have been a point that the start would have needed to end, even for a workhorse like Buehler. In fact, Roberts said the Walker at-bat to end the game was going to be Buehler’s final batter regardless.
Roberts was quite glad he didn’t need to go to the mound to tell Buehler his night was over and find out how that interaction would have gone.
“I was very relieved,” Roberts said with a grin.