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Walker Buehler tries to change things up in NL West race

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Buehler has reintroduced his changeup this season

Los Angeles Dodgers v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Dodgers on Saturday will try to gain ground in the National League West standings for the first time in 17 days, and in doing so will send to the mound the same pitcher who started the last time it happened.

Walker Buehler beat the Giants on July 28 in San Francisco, pulling the Dodgers to within two games in the division. The home team won the series finale the next day, starting a pattern that has continued ever since.

The Giants gained a game on July 29, and added a half-game to their lead with wins on Dodgers off days on August 2 and August 5. But on days they both played and didn’t play each other, the Dodgers and Giants had the same result 11 times in the last 12 such occasions. Thursday was another gain day for the Giants, with a home win over the Rockies and the Dodgers’ loss in Philadelphia.

NL West woes

Date Dodgers Giants Dodgers GB
Date Dodgers Giants Dodgers GB
Tue, Jul 27 L W 3
Wed, Jul 28 W L 2
Thu, Jul 29 L W 3
Fri, Jul 30 L L 3
Sat, Jul 31 W W 3
Sun, Aug 1 W W 3
Mon, Aug 2 W 3.5
Tue, Aug 3 L L 3.5
Wed, Aug 4 W W 3.5
Thu, Aug 5 W 4
Fri, Aug 6 L L 4
Sat, Aug 7 W W 4
Sun, Aug 8 W W 4
Mon, Aug 9 4
Tue, Aug 10 W W 4
Wed, Aug 11 W W 4
Thu, Aug 12 L W 5
Fri, Aug 13 W W 5
Since gaining a game on the Giants with a win in San Francisco on July 28, the Dodgers are 8-5. But the Giants are 12-3, and have widened the lead in the division.

Without playing against the Giants, the Dodgers need help to gain on the first-place team, which represents the biggest problem Los Angeles faces. Since the beginning of July, the Dodgers and Giants have played 28 times on the same day without playing each other, and had the same result 22 times (they’ve each gone 15-7). The two teams split the six days with different results.

Buehler has a 0.79 ERA in five starts against the Giants this season, allowing five total runs in 34 innings. But he can only face San Francisco once more during the regular season, when the two teams meet up September 3-5 in San Francisco.

Of late, Buehler has been that stingy against just about everyone. He’s allowed five runs in his last six starts, and 15 runs in his last 12 starts. The longer stretch lowered his ERA from 2.82 to a league-leading 2.13.

One of his newer weapons is the occasional changeup. Buehler’s only thrown the pitch 2.8 percent of the time this season, with five other pitches used more often. But considering Buehler threw zero changeups last season and only 13 in 2019, throwing the pitch 63 times so far in 2021 counts as incredible progress.

“I’m just trying to work on what I do, and implement whatever I can,” Buehler said a few starts back. “The changeup has been a little bit of a new wrinkle we’ve added in, and I think it’s helping a lot.”

Opposing batters have three singles in 12 at-bats that end with Buehler’s changeup this season. The expected numbers — .129 batting average, .154 slugging percentage — are even better, albeit in a ridiculously small sample size. But his six strikeouts with the pitch this season are more than he had in 2017-2020 combined (two strikeouts, throwing 94 total changeups).

Buehler so far this season has thrown the changeup almost exclusively to left-handed batters. His one changeup to a right-handed batter was in the sixth inning on July 22 in Los Angeles, getting Buster Posey to ground out.

He’s gradually added the pitch as the season progressed. After throwing none in April and two in May, Buehler threw 24 changeups in June and 28 more in July. So far in August, he’s thrown nine in two starts.

Game info

Teams: Dodgers (70-46) at Mets (59-56)

Location: Citi Field

Time: 4:10 p.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA, MLB Network