LOS ANGELES -- As a hard-throwing rookie starter, Walker Buehler of the Dodgers is doing things Clayton Kershaw and Sandy Koufax couldn't.Buehler was at it again Sunday, containing the last-place Padres on four hits for seven innings in a 6-1 Dodgers win. Los Angeles has won eight of the last
LOS ANGELES -- As a hard-throwing rookie starter, Walker Buehler of the Dodgers is doing things Clayton Kershaw and Sandy Koufax couldn't.
Buehler was at it again Sunday, containing the last-place Padres on four hits for seven innings in a 6-1 Dodgers win. Los Angeles has won eight of the last 10 and by Thursday, Kershaw figures to rejoin Buehler in the rotation.
Buehler struck out eight without a walk. Manager Dave Roberts joined scouts in comparing Buehler to Timothy Lincecum for poise, confidence and ability to generate high velocity out of a lithe frame. But neither Lincecum nor Kershaw or Koufax displayed the first-year polish and strike-throwing efficiency of Buehler.
After his first seven starts, Kershaw had 29 strikeouts but 22 walks in 33 innings. Koufax had 31 strikeouts and 25 walks in 41 1/3 innings. Lincecum had 42 strikeouts and 17 walks in 44 1/3 innings. Buehler has 48 strikeouts and only nine walks in 41 innings, to go with a 3-1 record and 2.20 ERA. In three of Buehler's last four starts, he hasn't issued a walk.
"The first few outings, most of the runs that scored were guys that I walked," said Buehler, who said he has patterned his pitching style after Zack Greinke. "That's kind of controllable and something to avoid at all costs."
Buehler said he's learned to be efficient out of necessity.
"My generation is the first one with pitch counts, like in Little League, so it's something I grew up with in the back of my head," he said. "That's a positive to be able to do it here."
Kershaw was a 19-year-old two-pitch rookie and opponents would run up his pitch count by fouling off his best offerings. Koufax was overpowering, but raw and wild. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said the 23-year-old Buehler is more efficient because he throws variations of four pitches, using the curve as the only true offspeed pitch while developing a cutter to augment sliders and a two-seamer to contrast a four-seamer.
"Walker has more pitches, more refined," said Honeycutt. "He had more pitches before we drafted him, a full mix. His last few outings his offspeed is more refined. He has a really good feel -- which is unusual for a young guy -- to throw a back-door cutter to lefties and righties."
Now, what about those pitch and inning restrictions the Dodgers planned for Buehler this year, coming off a 98-inning 2017? The backpedaling began in earnest after this 93-pitch start.
"He's made that very difficult for us," said Roberts. "For now, we're just looking more near term and not trying to get too far ahead of ourselves. Right now, we're just going to stay the course. There's not a hard number for Walker. We'll continue to keep an eye on him."
The Dodgers have picked the softest spots possible for Buehler's starts. Five of them have come against last-place teams. Twice it's been San Diego; the first time he combined with three relievers on a no-hitter in Monterrey. Mexico.
To be fair, the odds were in favor of Buehler and the Dodgers before the first pitch. The Padres didn't have a starting pitcher and went with a bullpen game, using four relievers.
Buehler even started the Dodgers' two-run third inning with a single, going to third on Chris Taylor's flare double and scoring on Enrique Hernandez's single through the hole on the left side. Taylor scored from third base on Justin Turner's double-play grounder.
San Diego halved the lead in the fifth inning. Freddy Galvis doubled in the right-field corner, took third on Buehler's wild pitch and scored on Raffy Lopez's sacrifice fly that Matt Kemp ran down in the left-field corner.
The Dodgers blew open a close game in the bottom of the eighth inning with a pair of two-run homers from Player Page for Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger. Muncy has six home runs in only 83 at-bats. Bellinger has a team-high eight, although when he hit it, he was in a 2-for-34 slump.
The Dodgers won a third consecutive series for the first time this year.
In 15 day games this year, Bellinger is batting .339. But in 37 night games, he's batting .212. Last year, Bellinger hit .291 in the day and .258 at night.
HE SAID IT
"He is here to stay, for the foreseeable future. He has exceeded our expectations, but I will say, the front office really had an eye on him." -- Roberts on Muncy, who was released by Oakland in April 2017
Monday's 5:10 p.m. PT start against the Phillies and Southern California native Vince Velasquez might be Brock Stewart's last start in a while with Kershaw returning. Stewart lasted only four innings against the Rockies last time out and it was a battle, as he kept falling behind hitters. It's a rare opportunity for Stewart to have two successive big league starts without being optioned between.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.