For the first time in over a decade, the Dodgers had a pitcher other than Clayton Kershaw selected to be on the mound for the first game of the season. Walker Buehler was named the Dodgers 2022 opening day starter, and the 27-year old right-hander got the job done admirably and picked up the win in a 5-3, season-opening victory over the Rockies.
Buehler pitched five solid innings on Friday afternoon at Coors Field for the win. He allowed two runs on four hits with five strikeouts and two walks on 78 pitches (53 strikes) vs. Colorado. Considering the circumstances and the location, this was a really solid start for Buehler and the Dodgers.
The Dodgers started the regular season on the road again at Coors Field. The scheduling isn’t ideal for the Dodgers who commence the season in Denver after a short spring. Buehler’s two-run outing at hitter-friendly Coors Field was also fitting considering he made his major league debut against the Rockies in 2017.
Kershaw started opening day last year in Denver, his franchise-record ninth opening day start. Only twice did Kershaw miss opening day, both because of injury — Hyun-jin Ryu took the first turn on the mound in 2019, and Dustin May was the emergency starter in 2020. Other than those two fill-in moments, we’ve become accustomed to Kershaw starting for the Dodgers on opening day since 2011.
The well-deserved nod, and first of Buehler’s career, was announced by Roberts at Camelback Ranch during spring training.
Buehler has earned the”ace” label. He’s established himself as one of the most dominant and reliable pitchers in the league. He went 16-4 with a 2.47 ERA, 3.14 FIP and 0.968 WHIP over a career-high 207 ⅔ innings pitched in 2021, finishing fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting.
He made all of his scheduled starts (33) for the first time in his career. Buehler’s reliability was extremely valuable to the Dodgers who were short-handed in their starting rotation. In the 2021 postseason, Buehler made four starts, two of them coming on three days’ rest.
Buehler has had the luxury of learning and watching the best pitcher of this generation. Kershaw is a priceless resource to observe and learn from, and that has helped Buehler elevate himself to one of the top-10 pitchers in baseball.
The Dodgers’ opening day win behind Buehler was highlighted by a five-run fourth capped off with a Mookie Betts RBI double. The Dodgers scored five runs in the frame, but what we’ll really remember is Gavin Lux’s slide into home.
Buehler threw 39 pitches the first two innings, but he settled down and only threw 39 in his last three innings. His four-seam fastball touched 96-mph. This seems good considering pitchers did not have the usual time in spring training to build their arm strength up.
Buehler’s been a reliable workhorse for the Dodgers. He also seems to thrive on big-game moments as evident by his 2.94 postseason ERA. He’s started Game 1 of five playoff series and came up huge in the tiebreaker against the Rockies in 2018.
Kershaw is on a one-year contract, and it’s possibly his final year with Los Angeles. It’s bittersweet, but It makes sense to pass the ace baton to Buehler as he enters his prime. There’s no reason to think that Buehler won’t continue to get even better this upcoming season.