PHOENIX -- As Walker Buehler warmed up Monday morning, preparing to enter the late innings of a minor league game against the Chicago White Sox, an interested observer stood outside the bullpen. Andrew Friedman, the Los Angeles Dodgers president of baseball operations, crossed his arms and watched Buehler prepare to face hitters for the first time since last season. A few minutes later, general manager Farhan Zaidi joined Friedman.
The Dodgers expect crucial contributions in 2018 from Buehler, a first-round draft pick in 2015 and the organization's top pitching prospect. He tested the waters in the majors in September as a reliever, but the team views him as a possible right-handed weapon to add to their mostly left-handed rotation this season.
Buehler, 23, will not begin the season with the Dodgers. He may not even break camp with a team. The Dodgers will keep a watchful eye on Buehler's workload this year, with manager Dave Roberts suggesting an ideal output from Buehler would be 140 to 150 innings.
The Dodgers intend to be flexible with Buehler's usage, and are unlikely to treat those numbers as a hard cap. They act more as guidelines.
"We don't know how his spring is going to play out," Roberts said. "We know he's going to pitch meaningful innings for us at the major league level. We don't know when. At that point in time, we just have to let things play out themselves."
Buehler threw 98 innings in 2017. He appeared in three games in 2016 after returning from elbow ligament-replacement surgery. The Dodgers do not want to put unnecessary strain on his frame as he rebuilds arm strength.
Buehler faced four batters Monday. He struck out three and gave up a triple with two outs. He had been tinkering with his slider, looking to reduce the velocity and increase the size of its break. The pitch reached the low 90s in 2017, making it more of a cutter, and Buehler wanted to provide a different look from his fastball.
"The harder you throw it, the less it's going to break," Buehler said. "Really, it's the same pitch. Just trying to throttle it down a little bit and make it a little bit bigger."
RYU LOOKING FOR MORE SPIN IN 2018
Hyun-Jin Ryu struggled with the command of his curveball during a three-inning outing against the White Sox minor leaguers. He chalked up the lack of command to his experimentation with the shape and speed of the pitch, which he threw 15.6 percent of the time in 2017.