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Walker Buehler knows his strikeouts are down

Dodgers RHP has 12 strikeouts in 18 innings so far in 2021

Los Angeles Dodgers defeat the Washington Nationals 1-0 on Opening Day. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

When the record is 14-4, for the most part you have to dig deep to find Dodgers things to nitpick. The offense isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders right now, but with three starters injured it’s a little more understandable.

Perhaps the Dodgers are to blame for setting this standard. They won a franchise-record 106 games, then acquired Mookie Betts. They captured their first championship in 32 years, then added the reigning Cy Young Award winner, potentially paying Trevor Bauer the two highest single-season salaries in the first two years of the deal.

Adding Bauer to an already deep rotation pushed the Dodgers staff to a new level. In the first three weeks of the season, all five Dodgers starters have an ERA starting with a two.

Walker Buehler leads the way at 2.00, which isn’t too shocking considering he’s been Dave Roberts’ choice to start Game 1 in four of their last five postseason series. In many ways, Buehler has been remarkably consistent, pitching six innings in each of his first three starts, allowing a total of four runs. After a year of stops and starts due to the pandemic, and blister issues that limited him in over half of an already-shortened season, seeing Buehler pitch relatively deep has been welcome.

It’s the first time he lasted six innings in three straight starts since July 3-21, 2019, part of a stretch of lasting at least six innings in 13 of 16 starts. Buehler went six innings in just nine of his next 21 starts, counting the postseason. But beginning with Game 6 of the 2020 NLCS, when his blister problems were mostly under control, Buehler has actually lasted exactly six innings in five straight starts.

Walker Buehler’s put-away rates

Pitch 2020 2021
Pitch 2020 2021
4-seam fastball 24.0% 13.0%
Curveball 23.5% 20.0%
Cutter 26.1% 16.7%
Slider 4.2% 7.7%
Sinker 40.0% 0.0%
through 3 starts in 2021

But because this is the Dodgers, and Buehler, excellence is not only expected but required. So we can look at one other mark of consistency this season, with Buehler striking out exactly four batters in each of his three starts.

Buehler’s 17.1-percent strikeout rate this year is way down from his 28.6-percent career mark heading into 2021.

“The biggest thing for me is I’m getting ahead of guys, but the two-strike breaking balls have been too over the plate,” Buehler said last weekend, after striking out four in six innings against the Padres, allowing two runs. “Professional hitters with two strikes, if you throw straight breaking balls, they’re going to hit it.

“That’s the focus right now. But again, the goal is to put up zeroes, and keep trying to do that.”

The numbers on Baseball Savant bear this out. Buehler’s put-away rate is considerably down on four of his five pitches. Only the slider has a higher rate this year, but that has amounted to all of one strikeout for a pitch he throws less than 10 percent of the time.

Buehler has used his four-seam fastball 54 times with two strikes, and gotten only seven strikeouts out of it, a 13-percent put-away rate that is down from 24 percent in 2020. Hitters last year against Buehler’s four-seamer hit .102/.124/.119, going 5-for-59 with one extra-base hit (a double), and 23 strikeouts. This year, in plate appearances that end in a four-seam fastball, batters are hitting .262/.296/.381 with a home run and two doubles.

Overall, his hard-hit rate is 49.1 percent this year, after 36.5 percent the last two seasons combined.

Again, we are only talking about three starts so far for Buehler, who has managed to be effective despite not striking people out. He faces a Padres team with the second-lowest strikeout rate (21.3 percent) in the majors, so they will provide another test for the Dodgers right-hander.

Game info

Teams: Dodgers vs. Padres

Location: Dodger Stadium

Time: 7:10 p.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA, MLB Network (out of market)