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Walker Buehler, Dodgers' bullpen struggle in loss to Rockies

·4 min read
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler works against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler works against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning Wednesday in Denver. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

The expectation was the Dodgers, when Clayton Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin came off the injured list earlier this month to make their rotation finally whole again, would benefit from quality starts almost every day as they chased the San Francisco Giants down the stretch.

Kershaw and Gonsolin’s health were questions but Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías had become Cy Young Award candidates. Scripted bullpen games were in the past. The quintet would spell the relief corps and the team’s elite run prevention would continue with a slightly different formula.

But the rollout hasn’t gone as smoothly as anticipated. A night after Urías’ velocity dropped again for his second consecutive abbreviated outing, Buehler didn’t survive the fourth inning and the Dodgers’ pitching staff absorbed a rare letdown in the team’s 10-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on Wednesday.

The result dropped the Dodgers (97-55) to two games behind the Giants in the National League West with 10 games left. The Giants held on to defeat the San Diego Padres 8-6 late Wednesday night.

“I didn’t do my job,” Buehler said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. They gave me a lead and then I couldn’t protect it. My job is to set the tone and I didn’t do that.”

Buehler yielded five runs and seven hits across 32/3 innings. He faced 18 batters and nine of them hit balls in play with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. He threw 74 pitches and generated just four-swing-and-misses — a season low.

It was just the third time this season that he has failed to log at least six innings. Two have come in his last four starts.

His earned-run average has climbed from 2.05 to 2.58 during that span. Perhaps related, he has logged a career-high 195 innings this season — 122/3 innings more than his previous high for a regular season.

“I don’t think that the time of year or the innings is something to blame,” Buehler said. “I think it’s a me problem and something that I need to address and figure out.”

The Rockies (71-80) chased Buehler in the fourth inning when Germán Márquez, the opposing starting pitcher, lined a two-out, two-run double. The hit was the Rockies’ sixth of the inning — Brendan Rodgers led off with a home run before Buehler surrendered four straight singles.

Dodgers catcher Will Smith applies a late tag as Colorado Rockies' Charlie Blackmon scores on a double hit by C.J. Cron.
Dodgers catcher Will Smith applies a late tag as Colorado Rockies' Charlie Blackmon scores on a double hit by C.J. Cron in the seventh inning Wednesday in Denver. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Justin Bruihl replaced Buehler. Four other relievers followed. Alex Vesia, one of the Dodgers’ reliable bullpen arms, had the roughest time.

The left-hander entered in the seventh inning with the Dodgers trailing 6-5. The outing began with him fielding a groundball from Charlie Blackmon and colliding with him trying to tag him out. The ball squirted out of his glove, allowing Blackmon to reach base.

Vesia, who was charged with an error, was shaken up but stayed in the game. Two batters later, C.J. Cron mashed an RBI double for his fourth hit of the night. Two batters after that, the Dodgers decided to issue Elias Díaz a two-out intentional walk with first base open. Sam Hilliard, a left-handed hitter, then clubbed a three-run home run with two strikes.

It was the first homer Vesia has given up to a left-handed batter this season. He hadn’t surrendered two hits in an outing since May 29.

“I don’t think [the collision] had anything to do with the outcome of that inning,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

The Dodgers scored the game’s first three runs, all with two outs, in the fourth inning. The outburst began with Gavin Lux delivering a two-out RBI single. Luke Raley, playing in front of his mother as a big leaguer for the first time, followed with a 472-foot, two-run home run to straightaway center field. The Dodgers later added two more runs in the fifth inning to knock out Márquez.

But the offense fell silent from there, failing to score against the Rockies’ bullpen over the final four innings. It was the first time since July 30 that the Dodgers lost when scoring at least five runs. They expect to win games with that output, especially with a whole starting rotation again. But a starter scuffled for the second straight night and the Dodgers are running low on chances to catch the Giants.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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