Walker Buehler looks sharper in probably last minor league rehab start

Walker Buehler saved his best for what he hopes is his last minor league rehabilitation start Tuesday night, the Dodgers right-hander giving up one earned run and seven hits in five innings and striking out five with no walks for triple-A Oklahoma City against Salt Lake.

Buehler, in the final stages of his recovery from a second Tommy John surgery, threw 75 pitches, 54 for strikes, and he threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 21 batters he faced at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.

His fastball sat between 92-94 mph and topped out at 94.6 mph. He mixed his heater with a curveball, cut fastball, slider and changeup.

Buehler used his looping knuckle-curve to finish four of his five strikeouts, including a pair of 77-mph benders in the fifth inning to whiff Jordyn Adams swinging to complete a nine-pitch at-bat and Charles Leblanc looking to end the inning.

Six of the Salt Lake hits were singles, and the Bees scored their only run off Buehler in the fourth, when Willie Calhoun led off with a single and Buehler hung a two-strike curve to Chad Wallach, who banged a two-out, RBI double to the gap in left-center field.

Buehler’s sixth rehab start came on the heels of two shaky outings in which he gave up two earned runs and four hits, struck out three and walked four in 2 ⅔ innings against Sacramento on April 18, and gave up three earned runs and seven hits, struck out five and walked two at Albuquerque last Wednesday.

Buehler, who last pitched for the Dodgers on June 10, 2022, didn’t look dominant Tuesday night, but his overall command, especially of his breaking ball, was much sharper than it was in his previous starts, and he needed only five pitches to complete the third inning.

Buehler, 29, was the team’s ace during his last full season in 2021, when he went 16-4 with a 2.47 ERA in a major league-high 33 starts, striking out 212 and walking 52 in 207 ⅔ innings, and he has thrived in October, going 3-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 15 playoff starts, striking out 101 and walking 31 in 79 ⅔ innings.

Asked on Monday in Phoenix if this would be Buehler’s last rehab start, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “We’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to put any extra expectations on Walker. Go out there, pitch well, get out of it healthy, and then we’ll make the next move.”

Tuesday night went pretty well for Buehler, who’s next move probably will be a return to the Dodgers’ rotation during next week’s series against the Miami Marlins.

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