There was a time at Henry Clay High School that Walker Buehler questioned whether he’d even play college baseball.
Coming off a breakout rookie season in the majors in which he started a World Series game for the Los Angeles Dodgers, those doubts are gone.
Now, he’s back home, enjoying his off-season and supporting a cause close to his heart with his inaugural Walker Buehler Golf Outing benefiting Kids Cancer Alliance.
Before he teed off Monday morning at the Marriott Griffin Gate Golf Club in Lexington, he talked about his year, his charity and his thoughts on what’s next.
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On his breakout season ...
“They had told me ‘you’re going to be up and down (minors/majors) a little bit,’ so we knew that going in. I certainly didn’t expect to be up as long as I was or the whole year, but I started throwing the ball pretty well and figuring some things out, I think we exceeded the expectations, but, at the end of the day, your expectations for yourself have to be higher than everybody else’s.
“It was obviously pretty cool and pretty special, surreal, I would say. I feel like I’m not going to really understand it for a couple of months, but in that organization, that’s what we expect to do. We want to finish it off in the next one.”
On next year ...
“I expect to be in the rotation, and we expect to win in L.A. And I think we will.”
On pitching in the playoffs ...
“It’s crazy. There’s a few years there in high school I didn’t think I’d play college ball, being the size I am (a slender 6-foot-2), it would be a little hard to imagine (as a high schooler).
“Playing in L.A., you get used to playing in front of some big crowds, but the playoffs were different. It was pretty neat that I got put in those spots.
Buehler pitched seven scoreless innings in Game 3 of the World Series, allowing only two hits and helping the Dodgers avoid being swept by the Boston Red Sox. For the year, the hard-throwing right-hander went 8-5 with a 2.62 earned run average. He had 29 strikeouts in 23.2 innings pitched during the postseason. The Dodgers won two of his four starts.
On advice for young pitchers hoping to do what he’s doing ...
“Baseball-wise for me, it was always if you want to throw hard, throw hard. You’ve got to have the intent. I think that that can kind of carry over into everything. You’ve got to train. You’ve got to work at it, but at some point it’s about going and doing it out on the field. I was lucky enough to be put in some spots and perform in a few ones.”
Buehler underwent Tommy John surgery after he was drafted 24th overall in 2015 out of Vanderbilt and spent a year out of the game. When he returned, his low-90s fastball in college cranked up into the upper-90s in the minors and put him on a fast track into the Dodgers’ major-league plans.
On talk that he could be the Dodgers’ next ace, maybe in front of Clayton Kershaw ...
“I think that’s a little silly. Kershaw’s one of the greatest to ever play the game. I’m just fortunate to play with him and pick up whatever I can from him.”
On his offseason plans ...
“I’ll be here. I’ve got my team. ... I’ll take a few weeks and get a little breather and then I’ll get back in the gym.”
On his charity golf outing ...
“My uncle (Matthew Buehler) was a childhood cancer survivor and I luckily got to spend 12 years with him before he passed. He had Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a 12- and 13-year-old. That’s always been my passion if I was going to do something like this. Baseball’s always been pretty good to me and given me a platform to do something like this.
“We called him ‘Pig,’ Uncle Pig. There’s a long story about how he fell asleep under a tree. He was a smaller kid, obviously, because he had battled cancer. ... His best friend was a linebacker on the football team, a big guy, and he called him ‘Piglet.’ So, as he grew older, everyone called him Pig. This one’s for him.”