Earlier in the week, Walker Buehler chucked his glove in anger when he reached the dugout.
On Saturday night, he simply scratched his head, flipped off his cap and buried his face in a towel.
All season, Buehler and the Dodgers have maintained confidence in the right-hander’s tantalizing skill set. They’ve remained steadfast given his dominant track record. They’ve promised that, despite some early inconsistency, he would eventually start looking like his old self on the mound.
The last week, however, Buehler’s season dropped to one low and then another — the Pittsburgh Pirates delivering the first blow in a four-run, six-inning start Monday before the New York Mets administered a gut punch in Buehler’s shortest career start Saturday en route to a 9-4 victory at Dodger Stadium.
In 2⅓ innings, Buehler gave up five runs, five hits and two walks. He finished with as many strikeouts (three) as extra-base hits allowed (a double and two home runs). And despite being gifted a 4-1 lead going into the third, he couldn’t escape the inning, failing to record at least nine outs in a start for only the second time in his career.
“I’m trying to figure this out,” Buehler said. “I don’t like this any more than the next guy.”
Buehler’s issues Saturday were layered.
While he said he felt better about his command and velocity with the fastball — a trademark pitch that he has struggled with this season — he still threw it for strikes just 16 of 30 times.
More problematic were his breaking pitches, which, unlike in other starts when Buehler still managed to limit damage and work deeper into games, weren’t able to get him out of trouble.
After striking out the first two batters of the game, Buehler hung a two-strike curveball that Francisco Lindor hammered to right field for a solo home run.
Following a pair of walks to lead off the third, the first of which featured a couple of wide changeups, Buehler left a slider over the outer edge of the plate that Starling Marte lined to left for an RBI double.
Two batters later, Buehler threw a similar pitch to Pete Alonso. The slugger crushed it to left field for a back-breaking two-run blast, putting the Mets back in front and prompting manager Dave Roberts to turn to the bullpen.
As Roberts came to the mound, Buehler rested a hand on his hip. He kept his gaze low as he walked off the field. Then he sat all alone on the bench for the rest of the inning, draping a towel around his face before disappearing into the clubhouse.
The Dodgers couldn’t get Buehler off the hook.
After scoring four runs in a second inning keyed by Mookie Betts’ bases-loaded, three-run double, the team struggled at the plate the rest of the night, finishing the game with just six hits.
The bullpen had its own home run problems, with Justin Bruihl yielding a solo shot to Eduardo Escobar in the fourth and Brusdar Graterol giving up a three-run blast to Alonso in the seventh.
And on a night when the Dodgers retired Gil Hodges’ No. 14, adding the legendary late first baseman to their Ring of Honor ahead of his upcoming Hall of Fame enshrinement later this summer, it was Hodges’ other club — the one he managed to a World Series in 1969 and with which he also has his No. 14 retired — that was victorious in front of 50,165 at Chavez Ravine.
Andrew Heaney and Max Muncy began their rehabilitation assignments with triple-A Oklahoma City on Saturday.
Heaney pitched three innings and gave up one run. Muncy went 0 for 3 with a walk while playing nine innings at third base.
Heaney is expected to make at least one more minor league start before returning from a shoulder injury he suffered in April. Muncy’s plan remains undecided as he continues to recover from a flare-up in the left elbow in which he suffered a torn UCL last season.
Clayton Kershaw will make a rehab start Sunday with low-A Rancho Cucamonga. He is slated to pitch three innings but could throw the equivalent of a fourth in the bullpen if all goes well.
The team hasn’t decided when Kershaw, who was 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts this season, will return to the big league roster, but Roberts said it’s possible he could pitch for the Dodgers during their series in San Francisco against the Giants next weekend.
“We have a couple dates in mind,” Roberts said. “But I just want to make sure we get through this one.”
Kershaw is expected to join the Dodgers on the road trip and throw a bullpen session Wednesday in Chicago.