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LOS ANGELES — Walker Buehler threw the first pitch of Monday’s game at 7:10 p.m. PT and glanced toward Dodger Stadium’s right-field scoreboard with uncertainty.

Buehler had spent parts of a 20-month rehabilitation from a second Tommy John surgery unsure what to expect. He anticipated the velocity bump that would come with the adrenaline of pitching in a major league game, but he didn’t know if it would actually show up. At times, he wondered if he’d have to adapt to pitching at slightly lower velocities. Then the results of his first pitch flashed on the board:

96 mph.

It was an early sign that things were in order. What followed was a shaky outing — three runs on six hits in four innings against a Miami Marlins offense that entered with the third-lowest OPS in the majors — but promising peripherals, chief among them the radar-gun readings. Buehler averaged 96 mph with his fastball and reached 97 and 98 mph on a handful of occasions in the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ eventual 6-3 victory. It could set the tone for his reemergence.

“I think I could be OK if I was 92-94 [mph]; I think I’m confident that way,” Buehler said. “But it helps a lot if I can throw 96 or 97. I’m very confident in my ability to do a lot of things with the ball. It’s just a lot easier for me to do it the way that I know how to do it. The idea that I can get pretty close to what I used to do, it makes it a little more attainable.”

Most of the damage against Buehler came early. The Marlins compiled three singles within the first five batters to plate two runs in the first inning, then got a leadoff homer from Nick Gordon in the second. The Dodgers overcame that with home runs from Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman, James Outman and Teoscar Hernandez — all within the first three innings — and Buehler settled down thereafter.

The 29-year-old right-hander finished retiring six of the last eight batters he faced. He hit a batter, made an error by dropping a feed from Freeman, had a hard time holding runners and generally struggled to put hitters away. But he also struck out four and generated eight swings and misses — four on his cutter, two on his four-seam fastball and two on his curveball. His fastball velocity settled into the 94-95 mph range in the fourth inning merely because he was “really tired,” Buehler said. He said he’ll keep improving.

“The ceremony of it is done,” Buehler said. “Now I can kind of focus on trying to be good and helping our team. I wish it would’ve gone better. I wish I would’ve thrown five or six shutout innings and whatever. But it’s done. And I’m happy to be back.”

It was a long road.

Buehler, who had Tommy John surgery shortly after he was drafted in 2015, then again in August 2022, tried to come back for the stretch run of the 2023 season but essentially ran out of time. He began another rehab assignment near the end of March and wound up requiring six starts.

Buehler’s third outing ended prematurely when a comebacker struck his right middle finger after just 27 pitches, about 50 short of his goal. In his next two starts, he allowed 11 hits and issued six walks in a stretch of 6⅔ innings, his command clearly lacking. His ensuing start, though, finally showed progress. Buehler, a pending free agent, threw five scoreless innings with the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate last Tuesday, running his pitch count to 75 and recording 15 outs for the first time. The Dodgers set an 85-pitch limit for his 2024 debut and watched him throw 77 pitches. Buehler said he was already feeling tired by the second inning.

“I’m sure tomorrow he’s going to wake up feeling like he got in a car accident,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “His whole body’s going to be sore. But that’s a good thing. And so he’ll get back to, you know, being a regular major league starter. But we got Walker Buehler back.”

When Roberts last saw Buehler, he was one of the most electric pitchers in the sport and also one of its best big-game performers. From 2018 to 2021, Buehler went 39-13 with a 2.82 ERA and 620 strikeouts in 564 innings during the regular season. But his signature moments came in October, particularly 6⅔ scoreless innings in a tiebreaker game against the Colorado Rockies in 2018, seven shutout innings in Game 3 of the ensuing World Series and, most notably, a stretch in which he allowed one run in 12 innings over the final two rounds of the 2020 playoffs, helping the Dodgers capture a championship.

Now he’ll join a rotation fronted by two major offseason additions in Tyler Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. At some point relatively soon, the Dodgers hope to get electric, young right-hander Bobby Miller back from a bout of shoulder inflammation. And in the second half, future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw should join what could be the most star-studded rotation Buehler has ever been part of.

“We’ve always had talented rotations, but this is a little bit different — especially with the two guys we have at the front of it,” Buehler said. “There’s just a lot of good things that come out of how much talent we have, how close we all are. We kind of push each other. I’m excited for that, and I just want to be a cog in that. I don’t think right now I’m going to be the No. 1 on our team, and that’s fine with me. I’ve been there before, and obviously I’m there right now. But I would like to push myself closer to that conversation. Whatever I need to do to help us win and get back to that I think is what our goals are.”

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Projecting the X factors, tactics and key matchups that will swing Rangers-Panthers

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Projecting the X factors, tactics and key matchups that will swing Rangers-Panthers

The NHL’s conference finals have arrived, and if you asked around in September, the four teams remaining were some of the most likely answers to the question, “Who will win the Stanley Cup?”

We didn’t get here the way many would have imagined, though. In the East, there can be no debate that the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers are the best teams, and were the best teams over the course of the season.

The West, however, was a little more surprising. The Dallas Stars battled the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets all season for the No. 1 spot in the West, with all three teams having spells at the top. The Edmonton Oilers had times during the season when they were wholly unconvincing as playoff threats, including a dismal start that saw them nine points out of a playoff spot in November, leading to the dismissal of coach Jay Woodcroft.

In our series previews, we look at specific areas: key points of difference in the series, the X factor, which team my model favors and the reasons why, along with a projection on the series result.

The model is a neural network that accounts for player strength, offensive, defensive and special teams performance, goaltending, matchup ratings and rest. As the model ingests data, it improves, with the heaviest weights on recent play. The model allows for players to be added and removed, with their impact on the game results measured.

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M’s Rojas: Yankees’ Schmidt ‘was clearly tipping’

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M's Rojas: Yankees' Schmidt 'was clearly tipping'

NEW YORK — With a little nod of his neck as he took his lead off second base, Josh Rojas seemed to signal Mariners teammate Dylan Moore that a cutter was coming from Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt.

Moore drove the 93.1 mph pitch 386 feet into the left-field seats for a 2-0 lead, helping Seattle to a 6-3 win over New York on Tuesday night.

“Everybody’s always trying to look for something,” Rojas said Wednesday. “We’re out there trying to find anything we can to gain an advantage.”

MLB Network showed a frame-by-frame comparison of Schmidt in the set position with Moore at the plate in the third inning. Rojas could see none of the ball before a sinker, a little of the ball ahead of a sweeper and a significant portion before a cutter.

Moore had fouled off Schmidt’s first full-count pitch, a sweeper, before the right-hander came back with a cutter.

“You can see in the video he was clearly tipping,” Rojas said.

Schmidt, 28, said after the game the Yankees were aware of the tipping and quickly worked to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

“Obviously tipping is a part of this game and it’s a factor and it’s always in the back of our heads and something that we’re well aware of,” Schmidt said. “They got two runs on it. But I was able to make adjustments after we saw the video and just part of the game. Another factor in it.”

Schmidt said tipping had been an issue with him in the past.

“It’s just something that we’re constantly with all our guys paying attention to and working on,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

Mariners manager Scott Servais, a big league catcher from 1991 to 2001, said technology has forced teams to become more alert to tipping.

“You didn’t have all the cameras and all the people working in front offices. It was actually a learned skill,” Servais said. “The days that you weren’t playing, you’re just locked in on that pitcher. Where does he comes set? When does his hand go into his glove? Where’s his eyes? Does he bite his lip when he throws his slider? There’s all kinds of stuff that happens, and in our day, you would just sit and stare at the guy until you try to figure it out for yourself.”

Asked who was the best at picking up tips, Servais brought up his own experience.

“Veteran players that didn’t play much — like myself — knew what to look for,” he said. “I always thought catchers had a good sense for it because they all knew that pitchers all did something a little bit different.”

Rojas said figuring out pitch tips “is a pretty common thing.”

“Even if you have something, it’s still pretty hard to get a hit,” he said.

Major League Baseball’s approval in 2022 of the PitchCom device for communication between pitchers and catchers has largely eliminated catchers signaling pitchers — and the ability of runners at second to pick up those signs. That causes runners to focus on the pitchers.

“Now it’s strictly a game of trying to find little things like that that will give you a tell,” Rojas said.

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Padres’ Bogaerts broke shoulder diving for ball

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Padres' Bogaerts broke shoulder diving for ball

CINCINNATI — San Diego Padres All-Star second baseman Xander Bogaerts broke his left shoulder attempting a diving pickup and was placed on the 10-day injured list Wednesday.

“I’m not a big timetable guy,” Padres manager Mike Shildt said. “Obviously he’ll be on the sidelines for a period of time. It’s really impossible to say how long. We’re still gathering information.”

Bogaerts injured his shoulder while diving for a ground ball in the first game of a doubleheader Monday against the Atlanta Braves. Bogaerts was escorted off the field after being evaluated by training staff.

Initial imaging of Bogaerts’ shoulder came back negative, but the fracture was revealed when further tests were done on Wednesday.

“Not as good (of news) as we clearly would have hoped, especially after the initial imaging,” Shildt said.

The Padres said Bogaerts, 31, did not suffer a labrum tear and does not require surgery at this time. The bone needs time to heal, but Bogaerts said he hopes to return to the lineup by late summer.(

Bogaerts, who was placed on the IL retroactive to May 21, is hitting .219 with four homers and 14 RBIs.

In related roster moves, the Padres selected the contract of outfielder David Peralta and transferred right-handed pitcher Luis Patiño to the 60-day IL.

Luis Arraez started at second base for the second straight game on Wednesday. Shildt said he will get creative in terms of replacing Bogaerts moving forward.

“The good news is, we have options between three or four different guys,” Shildt said. “We’re still in the process of figuring things out.”

The Associated Press and Field Level Media contributed to this report.

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