The Dodgers on Wednesday tabbed right-hander Walker Buehler to start Game 1 of their National League Division Series matchup against the Nationals.
Los Angeles waited as long as possible to reveal its rotation, but ultimately opted with Buehler in the opener.
Longtime ace Clayton Kershaw will likely start Game 2 so that he will be fully rested to either start or come out of the bullpen should the series go to a decisive Game 5. He got practice coming out of the bullpen in Sunday’s regular-season finale in San Francisco.
NL Cy Young Award candidate Hyun-Jin Ryu is the Dodgers’ likely Game 3 starter in Washington. Los Angeles already announced lefty Rich Hill as its starter for a potential Game 4 (if necessary).
The Dodgers’ decision likely came down to Buehler or Ryu for Game 1. Buehler endured a tough start on the road in Atlanta during last year’s NLDS, and that may have swayed Los Angeles to give him the ball at home. Ryu also had better splits at home this season, though his 2.72 ERA on the road was excellent.
Buehler tinkered with his mechanics during his final tuneup on Friday in San Francisco, where he allowed two runs with four walks in five innings. But he could pick up some down-ballot NL Cy Young votes this year after finishing 14-4 with a 3.26 ERA and 215/37 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The third-year star finished strong down the stretch, posting a 2.99 second-half ERA while holding hitters to a .219 average.
Buehler logged two starts against the Nationals this season, losing one start and taking a no-decision in the other while allowing seven runs (four earned) across 12 1/3 innings.
Buehler was absolutely brilliant the last time he was on a mound in October, twirling seven scoreless innings on two hits and no walks while striking out seven Red Sox in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series, a contest that wound up going 18 innings.