Through the first part of the season, Walker Buehler has been the best -- and most consistent -- starter in what is widely considered the best rotation in the National League, and perhaps even the Majors.
But as good as Buehler has been, the 26-year-old right-hander and the Dodgers have believed the best was yet to come. They were proven right on Saturday, as Buehler flirted with a no-hitter in the Dodgers’ 9-3 win over the D-backs at Chase Field.
Buehler completed seven no-hit innings for the first time in his young career, and it looked like he had a solid chance at recording the 27th no-hitter in Dodgers history. But the no-no bid was broken up by a David Peralta leadoff single in the eighth.
“Man, I wanted that no-hitter. Everyone wanted it,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “I mean, he was just on point. It was just electric all night long.”
Will Smith got the Dodgers on the board in the first, smacking his eighth homer of the season, a two-run shot off right-hander Matt Peacock. The Dodgers would go on to score nine runs, their most since June 11 against the Rangers.
That was plenty of run support for Buehler.
From the jump, it was clear that Buehler had everything working. His fastball velocity was right where he would like, and his breaking pitches were sharp enough to get swings-and-misses late in the count, something that has eluded Buehler at times this season.
He struck out four in the first three frames, using his four-seam fastball, slider and knuckle curve to record those punchouts. Buehler’s early dominance carried over into the middle innings, as he continued to mow down the D-backs’ struggling lineup. Buehler even incorporated more cutters and changeups than in previous starts. They were all effective, as the right-hander didn’t allow a hard-hit ball in the first seven innings.
“Yeah, until the eighth. Obviously I didn’t want to give up two hits,” Buehler said, when asked whether this was his most dominant start of the season. “I felt pretty good with what I was doing and commanded the curveball pretty well. It was a good one.”
Before allowing the first hit to Peralta, Buehler had retired the last 12 hitters he faced and didn’t appear to break a sweat. He threw 108 pitches, 72 for strikes, and allowed two earned runs on two hits over 7 1/3 innings. Despite Buehler’s pitch count of 99 heading into the eighth inning, Roberts said he was going to let Buehler “ride it out” as he chased the no-hitter.
Buehler, who has been searching for a big strikeout game, set a new season-high with 11 on Saturday. He recorded 14 whiffs, getting four on the fastball, four on the curve and three on the slider.
Buehler credited his increase in strikeouts to burying the breaking ball and blowing the heater up in the zone. He has matured enough that he doesn’t need to record a ton of strikeouts to be successful. But if Saturday was a sign of things to come, Buehler could take his game to the next level.
“It’s an interesting feeling going through something like that,” Buehler said. “But it doesn’t really matter if you don’t close it out. Just a good start and a good win for us.”
Buehler said he started getting a sense that a no-hitter was possible after the first three or four frames. It began to feel really real when he got through the sixth inning. He said, however, that he doesn’t have to calm himself down and that he just enjoys those moments.
That’s a good thing for Buehler, who will surely have other opportunities to “close it out” and become the next pitcher to toss a no-hitter as a member of the Dodgers. He said he’s not the same pitcher he was a few years ago, when he helped the Dodgers throw a combined no-hitter against the Padres. He’s right. He might be even better.
“In my opinion, he’s one of the best [pitchers] in baseball,” Smith said. “He’s continually working and putting in the work to get better. He’s already elite, but that’s kind of what keeps him ahead of the pack, his work ethic and his competitiveness. I’m glad he’s on our side so I don’t have to face him.”