Walker Buehler took over as Dodgers Ace

GLENDALE, Ariz. -The October winds blew with excitement and choked the 103-degree heat during game time when Clayton Kershaw hit and fired his own heater, a first-pitch fastball to George Springer of Houston, to start Game 1 of the now heavily controversial 2017 World Series.

High above the playground at Dodger Stadium, in a seat on the upper deck of the left field foul pole, is an important part of the future of Los Angeles being watched with his younger sister, the ticket in hand, who drowned in the atmosphere.

Walker Buehler is just 22 years old, with high hopes and ambitions. He’s a September call-up, asked to stay at the Dodgers ’spring complex in Arizona if there is a postseason injury. Now, the man the Dodgers are putting in as their next -generation ace is out of office. He just enjoys watching Kershaw, the future Hall of Famer from which, if things go as planned, the torch will come to him.

That day, at least symbolically, will come on Friday when the Dodgers open their season in Denver. Buehler will draw on his first day of career start. It’s Kershaw, who had nine of them, including every opener when he was still healthy since 2011, to watch.

“Watching his maturity process is incredibly fun and rewarding,” Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers ’president of baseball operations, said of Buehler. “It’s really like how you get it in the best of circumstances. And then to see it play the way it’s done, obviously he has some very good veteran pitchers around him to help. speed that up, but it also says a ton about him.

Now 27 and out of a career year where his 25 started two or fewer runs allowed to lead the majors, Buehler arrived in Los Angeles with a one -generation arm and a blue blood. He immediately endured and entertained his fellow Dodgers with sarcastic taunts and bold proclamations, then completely won them over with his competitive zeal.

“He’s not afraid of anyone or anything,” said Alex Wood, a San Francisco Giants starter who became a close friend of Buehler during their time in Los Angeles.

From Buehler’s arrival in the majors to stay in 2018 until now, Kershaw, the man he watched from the high seat on the deck in 2017, has worked by his side. In his own way, each of these men won majesty with every tuck-in of his Dodgers jersey. More often than not, both Buehler and Kershaw are stuck on landing.

“He was always very kind to me and gave me a lot of time that he didn’t need, especially in the early years,” Buehler said of Kershaw one afternoon last week in an interview outside the team’s spring clubhouse. .

Called “Buetane” by his Vanderbilt colleagues, a moniker sewn on his glove, Buehler described his role in the relationship with Kershaw as “perhaps the annoying little brother above all.”

He added: “Any association with him for a long time is cool for me. Hopefully, I’ve grown up a little bit. But it’s still Clayton Kershaw, and he’s still a walking statue, if you will, so the get to know him outside of that very well.

Kershaw, 34, laughed at the “annoying little brother” reference and quickly dismissed it. The iconic left-hander, however, describes their relationship as “friends.” Kershaw, who was limited to 22 starts last season and was sidelined during the postseason due to discomfort in his left arm and elbow, was confused by this opening day’s attention and quickly turned down any help dedicated to him in Buehler’s progress.

“Everyone was expecting that because I was here when Walker came I was going to be his mentor,” Kershaw said. “I didn’t want to do that, and he didn’t want me to do that, and so I didn’t.”

He added: “I can learn from him probably as much or more than he learned from me. He knows all the technology stuff of the new age and I never did. It would be great to talk to him about that. Our personalities are very different. But the friendships that have been built over the past few years are wonderful. ”

The Dodgers value the relationship, and the results, on and off the field.

“Even when Walker was a young, proud ballplayer, Clayton Kershaw was always interested and liked Walker,” Manager Dave Roberts said. “So when the upcoming Hall of Famer is heated up and gives a young ballplayer the benefit of the doubt, it shows that he sees something special in the player and the person.”

Friedman said: “The dynamic between them is fun to watch.”

That Buehler even became a member of Kershaw’s team is just one example of baseball’s frustrations. The Dodgers, along with every other team, love Buehler leading the 2015 amateur draft. But Buehler injured his elbow in his final season in college that eventually led to Tommy John’s surgery. The Dodgers, who have a 24th overall pick, thought they could steal a bargain and squeezed it from the middle of the first half until the 23rd pick was made, allowing Buehler to drop them.

“Obviously, it’s not the way he should draw it, but I hope that when he looks back on his career, he sees it as fun as we look at it,” Friedman said.

Buehler made last year’s best career in the ERA (2.47), won (16), threw innings (207 ⅔) and started (33). The most significant, he said, was 200 innings. It goes back to his youth after the Cincinnati Reds, and his Tommy John rehabilitation with Bronson Arroyo, who previously pitched for the Reds. Arroyo threw 200 or more innings in eight of her nine seasons between 2005 and 2013 – and 199 in the ninth.

“A lot of people don’t think Bronson Arroyo is the person you want to look at, but I’ve always thought that’s a really cool thing,” said Buehler, a native of Lexington, Ky. “And that 200-inning mark, with fewer and fewer people getting there, makes it even more special.”

That workload – and Buehler’s appreciation of it – is perhaps the greatest example of his maturity and growth into a true staff ace.

“When you were young, you wanted to create value for yourself,” he said. “You want to be real, very good and reject everything. Now, I take more pride in doing things that are valuable to our team. Being healthy and always being good is what I focus on.”

Aside from the field, Buehler also works to improve his diet. He and his wife cut gluten at some point last year, and he said he plans to do it again this year. Atlanta shortstop Dansby Swanson, who played with Buehler at Vanderbilt, remembers him as the king of snacks. And Colorado pitcher Ben Bowden tells a terrifying story during the time Vanderbilt was playing in the Dominican Republic, when Buehler left an open bag of Goldfish crackers on his bed and didn’t realize , on returning to the room, that the ants had swarmed the bag. . He opened the bag, opened his mouth and poured out before he realized he was eating goldfish and ants.

“True story. It was hard, ”Buehler said, smiling and admitting,“ I still have some gummy bear drawer vices. ”

But he has a growing toolbox. He impressed Kershaw last year by adding a changeup and cutter. Wood raves about his “ability to perform” the same way a jazz musician improvises. Buehler is known to add a pitch to his repertoire after impressing an opponent who throws it.

“There aren’t a lot of guys out there who can learn different pitches like that – that fast,” Kershaw said. “That could be a weapon.”

Already a two-time All-Star, Buehler finished fourth in the NL Cy Young vote last year. In more than 103 career appearances, including 94 starts, he has recorded just 13 losses (40-13).

“There’s something about getting the ball and wanting to be responsible,” Buehler said. “It’s a huge motivational thing for me.”

He allowed that, in drawing on the opening day’s work, “you have to be low and a little heavy,” marking his first curveball of the season.

Seriously? The proud thrower, humiliated?

“I think I might have been better in the last two years, but it still comes out every now and then,” Buehler said.

His legendary rotation-mate agreed.

“Oh no, he’s a hamburger,” Kershaw said. “For sure. It will work. It will also go the other way, too. If she’s not feeling well, or if she’s not where she thinks she should be, she works to make sure she’s okay.

Friedman said: “He’s in a huge market, with a rabid fan base, with expectations of winning a World Series every year. Some guys early in their careers will avoid that, or find it intimidating.He trusted it and enjoyed it and really improved, I think, in part because of it.

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