PHOENIX – When each game seems to be an austere challenge, the last thing a baseball team desires is to encounter one of the top pitchers in the game. Given that the Arizona Diamondbacks have dropped 10 of their opening 16 games, that reality hit hard Monday night.
Opening a series against the vaunted Los Angeles Dodgers in Chase Field, the Diamondbacks drew right-hander Walker Buehler as their mound opponent. Coming off a stellar 16-4 (2.47 ERA) campaign a year ago, Buehler is a two-time All-Star with a career ERA under three. Given the hardships encountered by the Diamondbacks in the opening weeks of the season, the match-up was regarded as cruel and forbidding.
True to confronting challenges of this season, the Diamondbacks were held in check and fell mercy to a sensational effort. In posting his first career shutout and third career complete game, Buehler was masterful in allowing just three scattered hits and four baserunners in gaining a 4-0 victory over Arizona before 17,750.
“(Buehler) was filling up the zone and all of his pitches seemed to be working,” said Arizona DH Seth Beer, who was one of four who reached base. “I think he had a game plan for every hitter and worked every hitter differently. You have to tip your cap to him because, in these kinds of games, you can’t be sitting there and looking for one pitch. He was landing a lot of breaking balls and kept you honest.”
Manager Torey Lovullo had a different look. To several hitters, Buehler was behind in the count, but only slightly. When hitters were ahead at 1-0, or 2-1 in the count, Lovullo thought patience might have provided a catalyst to attack Buehler.
“It was one of those games where we had to grind it out,” Lovullo said. “Buehler had really good stuff and I thought we went out of the zone a few times and gave him a chance to look even better. In these critical counts, we have to be more stubborn. When he’s going that good, you put yourself in a really big bind.”
From the start, Buhler had breathing room and the first inning created a comfort level. Lead-off hitter Mookie Betts walked, and Freddie Freeman followed with a double into the right-field corner. Trea Turner followed with a bounder between Geraldo Perdomo and the bag at third, rolled down the line and the resulting double scored Betts and Freeman. That was all the scoring the Dodgers needed and cruised to their 12th win of the season in their opening 16 games.
Over the course of his nine innings of work, Buehler allowed only a single to Christian Walker to open the second inning, a two-out single to Daulton Varsho in the third, hit Beer with a pitched ball with two out in the fourth, and allowed a two-out single to David Peralta in the ninth. At one point, the native of Lexington, Ky. retired 16 in a row before Peralta’s single to right.
Elsewhere … Outfielder Jordan Luplow made his first appearance of the season against Buehler. Pinch-hitting in the eight, he flied to center and afterward, Lovullo said Luplow would come of the bench again Tuesday and likely start in the series finale Wednesday afternoon against lefty Julio Urias. “This was his first day back with us and I wanted him to get some dirt on his spikes,” Lovullo said. Acquired from Tampa in the off-season, Luplow is coming off the injured list with a strained right oblique. … The Dodgers series continues Tuesday night with right-hander Zack Davies (1-1, 5.02) facing right-hander Tony Gonsolin. In the series wrap-up Wednesday afternoon, look for Zack Gallen (0-0, 1.00) to take on Urias (1-2, 3.00).