Throwing 100 pitches for the first time this season and almost hitting 100 mph on the radar gun were only part of the reason Los Angeles Dodgers starter Walker Buehler felt more like himself Monday night.
Buehler shook off a rough playoff start against Atlanta last year, matching a season high with eight strikeouts while pitching the Dodgers to a 5-3 victory over the Braves.
Chris Taylor had two RBIs as the Dodgers extended their home winning streak to eight games.
“I was just better on first pitch is what I think was the biggest thing,” said Buehler, who reached 99 mph with his fastball for the first time this year. “With the way that I throw the ball, if I can get in advantage counts, it makes it tough on them.”
Buehler started the only game the Braves won in last season’s NL Division Series matchup, giving up a grand slam to Ronald Acuña Jr. The right-hander allowed homers this time to Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis, but limited the damage to three runs over seven innings.
“Obviously, the two home runs kind of stink, but both of those were 2-1 counts and that was the stuff I was avoiding most of the (game),” Buehler said.
By then, the Dodgers had built a five-run lead, scoring in each of the first three innings. After Corey Seager drove home a run in the first inning on a groundout, Alex Verdugo made it 2-0 in the second when he scored on a passed ball.
The Dodgers made it 4-0 in the third when Taylor delivered an RBI single and Verdugo brought home a run on a sacrifice fly. Taylor added an RBI double in the fifth to make it 5-0.
Buehler gave up a mammoth, two-run homer in the sixth to Freeman, his seventh. Markakis added a solo shot in the seventh, his fourth.
Buehler (4-0) permitted five hits and did not walk a batter for the first time this season.
“Wasn’t putting anything, to me, in the middle of the plate. He was just hitting spots,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That was really, really good. We hit some balls hard, just couldn’t find a gap. That was tough. Location was so good it made us miss.”
The Dodgers made it a rough night for Braves starter Kevin Gausman (1-3), who was able to pitch after appealing a five-game suspension for throwing at Miami’s José Ureña on Friday.
“A little bit of shock, five games, but at the same point, I’ll appeal it,” Gausman said. “We’ll see. Hopefully I can get it to four and won’t miss a start.”
Gausman’s quick turnaround between outings came because he threw just 27 pitches Friday. He gave up five runs over 4 1/3 innings Monday, but two were unearned on the passed ball and his own throwing error in the first inning when Cody Bellinger bunted for a hit and Gausman threw the ball into right field.
“It kind of seemed like wherever the pitch was, that’s kind of the direction they hit it,” Gausman said. “They did a really good job of staying in on the fastballs in, and the fastballs away just kind of hit them the opposite way.”
Bellinger was making his first start since Friday at San Diego when he dislocated his right shoulder and popped it back into place on the field. He continued to play in the game but had just one pinch-hit appearance over the next two games.
CLOSER FOR A DAY
With Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen getting a rest after pitching in three consecutive games, Julio Urias worked a perfect ninth for his first career save. Pedro Baez pitched a scoreless eighth.
The smooth ninth inning was a welcome sight for the Dodgers after Jansen gave up a pinch-hit grand slam to Hunter Renfroe in the ninth Sunday and the San Diego Padres walked off with an 8-5 victory.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he would prefer to use Urias for two-inning relief outings. That would presumably help his potential transition back to a starter at some point this season. But the opportunity Monday came about with left-handed hitters Freeman and Markakis due up in the ninth.
“I just felt right there that it was a good matchup for Julio,” Roberts said. “And really, Julio, Pedro, they are all good matchups. But I think if you put it all together, that order made the most sense.”
Dodgers: Center fielder A.J. Pollock said he will be out six weeks and possibly more after undergoing surgery Thursday for an infection in his right elbow that developed from a small cut on his arm during a game at Wrigley Field late last month. … Roberts said Bellinger, after dislocating his shoulder at first base, will spend the majority of his time in right field moving forward.
The Braves will send Los Angeles-area native Max Fried (4-1, 2.11 ERA) to the mound Tuesday. He has given up two earned runs or less in five of his last six starts. LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu (4-1, 2.55) goes for the Dodgers. He has walked just two batters over 35 1/3 innings in six starts.
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