Buehler shines in second Double-A start

Dodgers No. 5 prospect fans nine over 3 2/3 scoreless innings

Walker Buehler has held opposing batters to a .198 average through seven starts this season. (Donn Parris/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | May 17, 2017 5:55 PM ET

The box score shows that Walker Buehler recorded 11 outs Wednesday afternoon, and an astonishing nine of them were strikeouts. The pitcher behind the numbers wants people to know that's not exactly his game plan.

Making his second start with Double-A Tulsa, the Dodgers' No. 5 prospect set a career high in punchouts while scattering three hits and a walk over 3 2/3 innings as the Drillers defeated Springfield, 7-4, at Hammons Field.

Video: Drillers' Buehler fans ninth batter

Buehler was limited to only 68 pitches (45 of which were strikes) as the Dodgers continue to handle the 22-year-old carefully in his return from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent in August 2015. Over seven starts this season, including five at Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga, the right-hander has come to terms with how to best approach each outing.

"Earlier I was thinking, 'OK, I've got 65 pitches. I might as well try to strike out as many as I can and make the most of it,'" Buehler said. "But today, I'm not even trying to worry about that. I don't even ask any more how many pitches I'm going to get. I'm just trying to get as many outs as I can, however I can. Today, I'm trying to throw the ball in the zone as much as I can, and good things happen when you do that."

Gameday box score »

The only two non-K outs for Buehler came in the first inning when he got Alex Mejia to ground to short and Jose Adolis Garcia to fly to right. He struck out the side in the second and third -- working around a single and triple in those frames, respectively -- and fanned two while allowing a single and a walk before his exit in the fourth.

His nine strikeouts beat his previous career high of eight, which he achieved April 15 and May 1 with Rancho Cucamonga. He's struck out 39 of the 95 batters he's faced this season for a 41.1 percent strikeout rate that would easily lead the Minors had he enough innings to qualify. Instead, Durham's Jacob Faria tops the category at 34.4 percent.

On Wednesday, the Drillers starter threw first-pitch strikes to 11 of the 15 Cardinals he faced and believes that was the biggest key to racking up the K's, even if punchouts weren't a primary goal.

"I got ahead with the fastball a lot, and that opened up the breaking balls later in the counts," he said. "But I think I got a good amount with the fastball, too. It was all about changing speeds along with location and putting the ball in and out to keep them off. [Catcher] Kyle Farmer was putting the right fingers down, because his scouting report on them was solid. It was little things like that."

Buehler's velocity also had a good deal to do with his impressive performance. MLB.com gave its No. 84 overall prospect a 60 for his fastball on the 20-80 scale this past offseason -- to go with 55's for his curve and slider and a 50 for his changeup -- and according to Tulsa's Twitter account, he hit 100 mph on the radar gun "a few times." Reaching triple digits is a big accomplishment for any hurler, especially one coming off major elbow surgery, and that's not lost on Buehler.

"To be honest, I don't feel any differently whether it's 93 or 100 coming out of my hand," he said. "It really comes down more to staying athletic in my delivery. With the year off and all the work in training and rehab I've put in, I think I've become stronger mentally and physically, and it's great to get good results like this."

The 2015 first-rounder, who threw only five total innings last season, has been on a fast track in terms of his pitching education this year, moving up to Double-A following five starts in the California League despite not going deeper than 3 2/3 innings in any of his outings. He allowed two runs on six hits and a walk while fanning three over four frames in his Tulsa debut last Friday and has already been taking notes on how best to tackle the Texas League.

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"Cal League hitters are trying to play to the Cal League and hit homers," Buehler said. "Here, they're more aware of their barrel and they have a little bit more of an approach to make that happen. Not that they don't do that in the Cal League, but here they're a little more advanced with it, like you'd expect."

With his first scoreless outing under his belt, Buehler believes he can still build on Wednesday's outing as he gains more experience in Double-A.

"I think I can take away some confidence from this one, for sure," he said. "What I've been doing can work here, and that's good to see. That first outing, I gave up six hits, and I wanted to carve those down. When you're in limited innings, you don't want to give up any hits or maybe one per inning or something, but definitely not six in four. Today was a good step there."

Video: Drillers' Buehler collects first pro hit

Speaking of hits, Buehler didn't only produce on the mound Wednesday. Leading off the third inning, he also collected his first professional hit with a single off No. 8 Cardinals prospect Jack Flaherty, who allowed three earned runs in 4 1/3 innings but still owns a 1.45 ERA this season. His first at-bat since 2012 when he was a senior at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Kentucky, Buehler lined a base hit to right on a 2-1 pitch and eventually scored on a single by Farmer. He struck out on six pitches in the fourth inning in his only other at-bat.

"I was really just trying to see the ball well," Buehler said of the hit. "He's obviously having a good year, and I didn't really know what to do against him. I guess I just put the bat in the right place at the right time. But the second time, he made sure to make me look dumb by throwing some breaking balls."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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