The Dodgers’ playoff pitching plans took another turn Friday, when the team announced that right-hander Walker Buehler will not complete his recovery from Tommy John surgery in time to pitch this season.
The news came hours before Buehler was slated to make his second rehab start with triple-A Oklahoma City. The 29-year-old, who underwent his second Tommy John procedure in August 2022, threw two innings for Oklahoma City last week and had been hopeful of making a major league return this month.
Instead, the Dodgers said Buehler — their homegrown, two-time All-Star and 2022 opening-day starter — will focus on coming back for the start of next season.
According to a person with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly, Buehler didn’t suffer any setback in his recovery and still is in a good place physically. However, he hadn’t progressed enough to make a comeback this season. The risk of rushing back too quickly and potentially disrupting his long-term recovery is too great in both Buehler’s and the team’s estimation.
“My goal since last year has been to return to a major league mound this season,” Buehler said in a statement. “After many conversations with my doctor, the Dodgers’ front office, training staff and my family, we concluded that waiting until next season is the right course of action. I am disappointed that I will not be able to help this team go after a title in the 2023 postseason, but I look forward to returning fully healthy in 2024 and bringing another World Series to L.A.”
Buehler returning this season always appeared like a long shot. It would have required the right-hander to return within 13 months of his procedure, an aggressive timeline for Tommy John recoveries.
Nonetheless, Buehler had been optimistic all year about his chances. In May, he declared a Sept. 1 target date to rejoin the rotation.
He revised that goal last month but remained hopeful in his ability to contribute in the playoffs.
“For me to be able to touch a mound would be a huge thing and make 2023 not a complete throwaway,” Buehler said Aug. 9, after throwing to hitters for the first time since his surgery. “We only get to do this for so long. I’m happy to be a part of this organization and this team. I guess in some way I want to be a part of this team and not just the organization.”
Buehler threw 24 pitches in his rehab outing last week. He retired all six batters he faced, including two strikeouts, over two scoreless innings.
While Buehler’s mid-90s velocity was encouraging, his command wasn’t as sharp. In the days since that outing, there had been a growing sentiment within the club that Buehler’s return before the end of the season would be unlikely.
“If we feel comfortable that he’s healthy and he can get major league hitters out, we feel good about [him coming back],” manager Dave Roberts said this week. “And if we don’t, then we’re willing to not kind of pull that lever.”
Friday’s news is the latest setback for the pitching staff, which remains in flux with the postseason less than a month away.
Opening-day starter Julio Urías was arrested Sunday, leaving his availability for October doubtful. Longtime ace Clayton Kershaw has had a decline in velocity over his last couple of starts while dealing with a lingering shoulder injury. Veteran trade-deadline acquisition Lance Lynn has struggled in recent weeks after a strong first month with the team.
The Dodgers have gotten auspicious performances from some of their young pitchers, particularly Bobby Miller (9-3, 3.80 ERA) and Ryan Pepiot (2-0, 0.86), who carried a perfect game into the seventh inning Thursday. Fellow rookies Emmet Sheehan and Gavin Stone have made strides after struggling in their initial call-ups.
Still, up until this week, the Dodgers had been hoping to have Buehler as part of their postseason pitching mix. Now, the club will have one less option in its pursuit of a World Series.