Walker Buehler may not be ready to pitch deep into games yet, but on Saturday night he made the most of his brief time on the mound.
The Dodgers' No. 5 prospect struck out the final eight batters faced over three scoreless innings for Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga in a 5-3 win over Lake Elsinore before front of a sellout crowd at LoanMart Field.
The eight punchouts are a career high for Buehler, who has yet to be charged with a run in his first two starts this season.
"I don't think I've ever done that before. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I struck out that many hitters in a game. It definitely was a special night," the Quakes starter said.
Buehler didn't get off to a great start, allowing singles to the first two hitters before getting Padres No. 15 prospect Josh Naylor to fly out to left field.
From that point on, Buehler was untouchable. He got out of the jam with called third strikes on Austin Allen and Ty France before striking out the side in the second and third innings.
"The beginning of games can always be a little tricky and once you get some guys on base, nobody likes giving up runs," Buehler said. "But it was one of those things where you get into a zone and don't really remember too much of it. Stuff started to click and the ball came out better and I was able to put it where I wanted to."
Through two starts with Rancho Cucamonga, Buehler has struck out 12 in six innings and thrown 69 of 100 pitches for strikes.
As efficient as he has been, the 2015 first-round pick has also been encouraged that his velocity appears to be back after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2015. Buehler hit 99 mph on the radar gun twice on Saturday.
"I've been up in that area a couple of times this season, but that was nice to see tonight," the right-hander said. "A big thing we talk about as an organization is fastball command and throwing with velocity, so it's nice to see that kind of hard work pay off."
The Dodgers are still handling the native of Crestview Hills, Kentucky, with caution before allowing him to go deeper into games. Last year, the 22-year-old made five appearances between the Rookie-level Arizona League and Class A Great Lakes and didn't allow an earned run while posting a 0.60 WHIP over five innings.
Buehler, Wes Helsabeck, Dean Kremer and Shea Spitzbarth (1-0) combined for a season-high 20 strikeouts.
"It was exciting to watch. We have a very talented staff and we've got a lot of guys who throw the ball well. I hope we can do that again and I wouldn't be surprised if we did," Buehler added. "It was a special night, especially the way Helsabeck finished it with six strikeouts.
Helsabeck struck out six and surrendered one hit in two scoreless innings for his first save.
Jean Cosme (0-2) surrendered five runs on seven hits with a walk and a strikeout in 3 1/3 innings in for the Storm.
Dodgers No. 18 prospect Drew Jackson went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and No. 14 prospect Will Smith added a two-run triple.