Transition of Dodgers’ Walker Buehler hits its next stage with long-awaited win

LOS ANGELES — For much of the last two years, Walker Buehler has had to process an outlook on his occupation that did not compute. The Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander had to accept that, with a twice-repaired ligament in his right elbow, there would be growing pains. He would not resemble the man who, at his best, held Dodger Stadium within his palm and forced opposing hitters to bend to his will — at least not right away.

He had to teach himself that patience before preaching it to others. His first two outings back in the major leagues looked every bit like Buehler had not pitched in the big leagues in 23 months. And yet, Buehler spoke about the small victories. Against Miami, he found the velocity he was never fully certain was still there. In San Diego, he warmed up better.

Saturday night, he found another, bigger victory. For the first time in nearly two years, he secured a win in the big leagues, delivering six scoreless innings in a 4-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

All it took was something that resembled growth for the cocky right-hander who dazzled with his brilliance in his youth but now, at 29 and a Tommy John recipient twice over, is finally willing to try something different.

“It sucks so much,” Buehler said with a smirk. “I was telling my wife (McKenzie) that I finally have to start listening to people, not just doing whatever I want all the time. So that’s been an interesting transition for me.”

The chuckle as he said it was revealing of how much of a transition that has been. Buehler is learning his body again and what it is capable of. Yes, he is still capable of hurling fastballs that touch 98 mph. But how he gets there, and how he can survive and thrive, will require adaptation.

This week, it involved conferencing with pitching coaches Mark Prior, Connor McGuiness and Josh Bard in San Francisco ahead of his between-starts bullpen session. The trio wanted to alter where Buehler stood on the pitching rubber; rather than starting completely on the first-base side of the rubber, with only his toes lining the surface, they wanted to move him in. The difference, Buehler said, is “probably 6 inches” — enough to get about half of his right foot along the rubber — but marked a substantial change. The session that followed didn’t go that well, manager Dave Roberts said.

The idea did have merit. Buehler had always pitched on the edge of the rubber, with his unique delivery whipping his body around to generate torque on the pitch. Trying to do the same things post-surgery did not have the same result. He did not have the same command or finish to any of his offerings.

“I think earlier in my career, there were things physically that I just can’t do now,” Buehler admitted.

So on Saturday, he took the mound and slid his foot slightly closer to the center of the rubber. Then he looked like a version of Buehler the Dodgers…

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Read More: Transition of Dodgers’ Walker Buehler hits its next stage with long-awaited win 2024-05-19 05:28:54

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