Operation major league rehab assignment didn’t go so well for Walker Buehler and the Dodgers Thursday. The young starter followed up five strong innings from Clayton Kershaw by getting hit around the yard by the playoff-caliber lineup of the Cubs.
Buehler faced nine batters and only recorded three outs in what was supposed to be a three-inning appearance out of the bullpen. When all was said and done, the Cubs hung five runs on his ledger and sent him to an early shower without any progression towards a return to the Dodgers’ rotation.
The Dodgers decided Friday that the best strategy moving forward would be to option Buehler to Single-A Rancho Cucamonga in order to build up his innings in a controlled environment.
Prior to Friday’s game, manager Dave Roberts talked about the need to do just that.
“He needs to be built back up as a starter,” Roberts said. “Obviously yesterday didn’t go as planned for various reasons. Going forward, the goal is to get him built up. So what’s the best way to do that and what makes the most sense.”
The Dodgers will keep Kershaw on regular rest for his next start, lining him up to pitch Tuesday’s game when the Pirates are in town. The left-hander is well on his way to being fully back in the rotation with no restrictions.
Meanwhile, Caleb Ferguson is still on the roster and won’t be available for the next couple days. That gives the Dodgers a six-man bullpen until Saturday when a corresponding move happens.
The most beneficial scenario for the Dodgers was always to option Buehler because it made sense in several different ways. The team will not only be able to build up his innings while not facing a major league lineup, they could also make sure Buehler is ready to go for the rest of season without restriction.
Roberts said during spring training that 140-150 innings would be “attainable” but didn’t want to put a number on inning limits. Buehler currently has thrown 65 1⁄3 innings combined between Triple-A Oklahoma City and the majors.
Not to mention a small — but still relevant — function of the option would be an extra year of control gained by doing so. If Buehler made a couple starts in the minors, he couldn’t accrue a full year of service before the end of 2018.
Regardless of service time, Buehler is better served to work back to full strength in the controlled environment the minor leagues provide.