LOS ANGELES — After making 33 starts, finishing in the top five in National League Cy Young Award voting, and firmly establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the Majors last season, Walker Buehler came into the 2022 season as the Dodgers’ ace.
But through three starts, Buehler is still trying to find consistency on the mound. Buehler gave up three runs over five innings and eight hits, the most in a game since 2019, in the Dodgers’ 3-1 loss to the Braves at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. The loss snapped Los Angeles’ seven-game winning streak.
“Just not a very good outing against a pretty good team,” Buehler said. “I’ve felt good, I’ve felt healthy. I’m just not getting the results that I want.”
One of the biggest issues for Buehler has been the lack of effectiveness on his four-seam fastball. After using the pitch 44 percent of the time last season, Buehler came into Tuesday’s start throwing his dominant heater for just over 36 percent of his pitches. Against the Braves, Buehler threw it just 25 times (out of 79 total pitches).
In an obvious small sample size, opponents came into Tuesday’s game with a .571 batting average against the pitch. Travis d’Arnaud added to those early struggles, ambushing Buehler on a first-pitch fastball in the second inning to give the Braves the early 1-0 lead.
“I didn’t think his stuff was sharp today,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “I thought he competed, gave us a chance to win. … I just don’t think he felt comfortable with the command of the fastball.”
Buehler agreed that he didn’t have his best fastball. Instead, he turned to his cutter, throwing it 25 times as well. He got seven of his 11 whiffs on the pitch. He got just two swings and misses with the slider.
“The only way I feel that I’m getting guys out or getting swings and miss is with the cutter right now,” Buehler said. “So we’re going to lean on the stuff that I feel like gives us the best chance to win with. … I don’t think there’s any excuse for it. We’re here and I just have to be better.”
Though Buehler labored through five innings, he also ran into some bad luck. In the fourth, Ozzie Albies hit a double down the left-field line that stayed fair by an inch. In the fifth, Austin Riley had a checked-swing RBI single to give the Braves a three-run lead.
Still, the first three starts of the ‘22 season haven’t produced the typical Buehler dominance that he enjoyed most of last season. In between outings, Buehler made some adjustments to his delivery.
Before each pitch, Buehler would bring both arms over his head during his delivery. On Tuesday, the right-hander made a noticeable change, going with a quicker windup and abandoning his usual windup in hopes of finding something that would turn things around.
Buehler has been known to tinker with his mechanics often, especially when things aren’t going as smoothly as he has come to expect. He expects more of the same before his next start against the D-backs.
“You can tell yourself that it was Colorado and things weren’t sharp, but to have two here at home and not be super sharp, it’s nothing that I enjoy,” Buehler said. “It’s not a feeling that I like. But it’s not something we’re just going to let stay that way either. So we’re trying things and trying to figure out and hopefully get back on track.”