Walker Buehler Debut: Welcome To The Show
During his middle school years in Kentucky, Walker’s uncle gave him a baseball with “Always do your best, U Pig” written on it, the U in this case short for “Uncle.” Walker and his Uncle Pig were extremely close and Buehler treasured the ball he received that day. It was the last time he saw his uncle before he passed away from epithelial cancer. Six years later on his 17th birthday, Buehler got a tattoo of his uncle’s inscription on the left of his torso.
Now, every five days during the baseball season, Walker Anthony Buehler takes the mound and does his best for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Before every start, he traces “P-I-G” in the dirt on the mound and then does his very best, just like Uncle Pig wanted.
Eyes on the Prize
Walker Buehler set his sights on the big leagues from a young age. He came out of Henry Clay High School in Lexington as a top prospect, playing a nearly unhittable curveball off of his 90-92 MPH fastball to great success. He was a two-time All-State and two-time All-City selection and set a single season record striking out 98 batters in 66 innings. Henry Clay High retired his jersey before he even finished playing for them.
The Pirates drafted Buehler in the 14th round of the 2012 draft when he was just seventeen years old, but he chose to honor his commitment to Vanderbilt instead. At Vandy, Buehler pitched primarily as a starter. His fastball velocity improved and by the end of his college career he was topping out at 96. He went 20-7 with a 2.88 ERA in 51 appearances in his three years with the Commodores. In his final season, Buehler pitched with discomfort in his elbow. Potential suitors in the draft knew that Buehler was injured, but that did not scare away the Dodgers.
Tommy John and Recovery
Walker Buehler was selected 24th overall in the 2015 amateur draft. Medical examination shortly after the draft revealed UCL damage. In consultation with doctors, the Dodgers decided Tommy John surgery was best for Buehler long term. In August of 2015, Buehler had his surgery and began his road to recovery. Doctors expected Buehler to be sidelined for 14-18 months, but just 12 months later Buehler made his professional debut.
He faced six batters at Camelback Ranch on August 10th, 2016, retiring all six and striking out three. He was promoted to Great Lakes in late September, finishing the year winning the Midwest League championship there. His 2017 season began in Rancho Cucamonga, pitching five starts before promotion to Double-A Tulsa. By the end of July he was in Triple-A Oklahoma City, with sights set on a September call-up.
Major League Debut for Walker Buehler
The call from the Dodgers finally came on September 6th, 2017 – two years and a month after his Tommy John surgery and 13 months after his professional debut. Buehler left college throwing 96. After surgery, he hit over 100. A day after his call up, Buehler took the mound for the Dodgers for the first time. For his debut, Walker Buehler pitched two scoreless frames out of the bullpen, allowing only one hit and striking out two.
The rest of the 2017 did not go as well for Buehler, however. He finished the month allowing eight runs in 9.1 innings. He did not make the postseason roster. But 2018 went better for Buehler, as he held a 2.62 ERA over 23 starts. He started game three of the 2018 World Series, allowing just two hits and no runs over seven innings. He also placed third in Rookie Of The Year voting, behind Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto.
High Risk, High Reward
Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman took a risk back in the 2015 draft on a pitcher with a dodgy arm in need of repair. With great risk comes great reward, and the Dodgers have experienced just that with Walker Buehler. In 2019 he was an All-Star, and in 2020 he became a World Series champion. He has cemented his role in the front end of the Dodgers pitching rotation, and he is still only 26 years old.
Off the field, Walker raises money for children’s cancer research, honoring the memory of his Uncle Pig on and off the field. Through his success, he hasn’t forgotten his favorite uncle’s words: Always do your best.