PHOENIX — Los Angeles Dodgers starter Walker Buehler walked off the field after eight innings Monday night, and as he passed manager Dave Roberts in the dugout, blurted out: “I’m not coming out of this game!’’
This was not going to be a repeat of Roberts’ controversial decision12 days ago to remove Clayton Kershaw after seven innings of a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins.
Buehler was not throwing a perfect game, giving up two singles to this point, but he had a chance for the first shutout of his career.
He wasn’t about to let it go.
“I would have been really upset,” Buehler said. “I think it’s kind of hard not to have that emotion.”
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One inning later, Buehler was still on the mound when center fielder Cody Bellinger caught Christian Walker’s line drive for the final out. Buehler broke into a huge grin, walked toward catcher Will Smith and hugged him. The crowd of 17,750 at Chase Field gave him a huge ovation.
Buehler had his first career shutout in the 98th start of his career. He gave up three hits and struck out 10, throwing 108 pitches in the Dodgers’ 4-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“That was ol’ Walker right there,” Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner said. “He was unbelievable.’’
Buehler, who had not pitched longer than 5 2/3 innings in his first three starts, put on an absolute pitching clinic. He was still throwing 96 mph in the ninth inning, retired 15 consecutive batters until David Peralta’s two-out single in the ninth inning, and never permitted a baserunner to advance past second base.
It was not only the first shutout but the first complete game of the 2022 season after a shortened spring training. Roberts wasn’t going to stand in the way of Buehler’s personal milestone after removing Kershaw with 80 pitches in a perfect game.
Roberts had a 110-pitch limit on Buehler, who was at 98 pitches when he went out for the ninth inning. Even if Buehler hadn’t said anything, Roberts planned to send him out for the ninth, knowing he was going to have an extra day of rest before his next start.
“I know it’s something he always wanted,” Roberts said. “He deserved it. He earned it. It was fun to watch him pitch tonight.”
Buehler never labored. There was no stressful inning. He was in full command of all his pitches.
“I think there have been outings where you might have seen more velocity or it looks or is perceived as more dominant,” Roberts said. “But I thought tonight was as well-pitched of a game as he’s pitched in the big leagues. I really believe that.”
Roberts said if Buehler had given up one more hit or baserunner, he was pulling him for closer Craig Kimbrel, shutout or not, and no matter how furious Buehler may have reacted.
“I was very relieved,” Roberts said, laughing. “The stars aligned right there.”
Someone joked with Roberts afterward, asking if Buehler still would have been in the game if he had a perfect game after seven innings, and Roberts could only laugh.
This was different, of course.
Buehler wasn’t coming off a forearm/elbow injury that sidelined him the last six weeks of the season like Kershaw. Buehler had been training all winter, and picked up a baseball well before January, unlike Kershaw.
“Hey, he was built up,” Roberts said. “They’re not all created equal.”
This won’t be remembered as part of baseball folklore, but considering no National League pitcher has thrown more than two shutouts in a season since Kershaw in 2016, with Hyun-Jin Ryu the last Dodger to throw a shutout in 2019, Buehler was honored to join the club.
“I was more pleased with just kind of getting back on track and getting my mechanics where I want them,” said Buehler, who entered the game with a 4.02 ERA.
“He went right at them, and they didn’t really know what to do with it,” said Smith.
Just like Buehler went right after Roberts, making sure to remove any doubt that he deserved to finish the game.
“You’ve seen how protected we are here, and I think that’s a good thing and the smart thing,” Buehler said. “But I would have been really upset.”
Now, he may have won Roberts’ confidence to be left in longer . Kershaw has 15 career shutouts, so he has some catching up to do.
“Kersh has kind of dominated and pushed and been really, really good in a lot innings,” Buehler said. “I don’t know if it’s a chasing him thing. It’s just a standard of what I want to be able to do.”
Well, considering Monday’s performance and Buehler’s talent, the chase may be on, particularly with a manager who knows that he can be trusted to finish out the job.
“Great players have certain things that they have to motivate them within the team constructs,” Roberts said. “Completing games, a complete game shutout was something that he always wanted. And to know that he can do it, now that he’s done it, it was an eventful outing.’’
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