March 5, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

How Walker Buehler is preparing for the Dodgers’ 2021 season

Every October for the last three years, since Walker Buehler’s rookie season, the Dodgers could count on the brash right-hander to dominate under the brightest spotlights. He has cemented himself as one of the sports’ best big-game pitchers. He is dynamite when it matters most.

Now it’s about sustaining the elite production over an entire season.

Buehler has a 2.35 earned-run average in 11 career playoff starts, which doesn’t include his 6 2/3 scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ division-deciding win over the Colorado Rockies in Game 163 in 2018. But slow starts have plagued him the last two years.

To avoid another one, he changed his offseason regimen, condensing the break he would usually take after a season to build arm strength earlier. As a result, he reported to spring training Thursday “more ready,” according to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.

“I just feel a little bit closer to where I want to be physically,” Buehler said in a video conference with reporters Saturday. “And then I think there’s a mental side of that, where you’re not as stressed out about going through this after you kind of build up and just feel good where you are and get ready for a season.”

Buehler, 26, reported to the three-week summer camp last July after Major League Baseball’s four-month shutdown behind the Dodgers’ other starters after taking a break from throwing. He wasn’t 100% ready for the season.

He was the last of the Dodgers’ five starters to pitch and was held back. He didn’t complete six innings or throw 90 pitches in a start until his fifth outing. He landed on the injured list days later with a blister problem that lingered through the end of the season.

“Appreciating last year, where it was a shortened season, Walker just felt there were a lot of bullets left out there, so for him to continue to throw, to keep his arm moving, will prepare him best for 2021,” Roberts said. “So he’s done that. Threw a bullpen [Thursday] and looked very sharp, considerably more crisp than he has in year’s past in bullpen No. 1.”

But it’s early. Buehler acknowledged, as many people around the majors have, that leaping from a 60-game schedule to the standard 162-game slate could pose challenges. Then there’s the blister issue.

Buehler used laser light therapy and Stan’s Rodeo Ointment, created by former Dodgers trainer Stan Johnston, to treat the blisters in the postseason. The remedies allowed Buehler to limit opponents to five runs with 39 strikeouts in 25 innings across five starts. He said the blisters haven’t resurfaced since October, but that doesn’t mean they won’t.

“I think it’s always going to be a wait-and-see kind of thing,” Buehler said. “I haven’t had any issues with it since last year and the offseason trying to make sure that nothing rears up. But it never reared up in my career until it did. So we’ll keep an eye on it and be conscious of it but as of right now, I’m not super concerned.”

For now, the focus is making sure he’s ready to tap into his potential from April through October.

Short hops

Clayton Kershaw completed his first bullpen session of spring training Saturday. The left-hander reported to spring training a day late after dealing with the consequences of the recent winter storm and power outages across Texas. … Roberts said catcher Keibert Ruiz’s visa issue still hasn’t been resolved. A native of Venezuela, the 22-year-old Ruiz will have to be tested for COVID-19 and quarantine before being cleared to join the team. Ruiz is one of the Dodgers’ top prospects and made his major league debut last season, appearing in two games. … Right-handers Joe Kelly and Mitchell White were held back from throwing again Saturday. Roberts hasn’t specified the reasons for their limited work and said there wasn’t a timeline for either pitcher.