The Dodgers announced this right turn on Monday Walker Buehler will have surgery on his right elbow at the end of the season on August 23. He has been out since June 10 after being diagnosed with a grade 2 flexor strain. Fabian Ardaya from The Athletic tweets that Buehler’s recent MRIs were not conclusive enough to determine the extent of the damage in his elbow, but Dr. Neal ElAttrache saw enough to recommend surgery. Presumably, the Dodgers will provide more details once the proceedings have been conducted.
That injury initially required a six- to eight-week break from pitching, and the Dodgers were certainly hoping that Buehler could make a comeback in late September and/or maybe in the postseason. Instead, he won’t serve again until next season at the earliest. Further details are not clear as the team declined to provide details on the nature of the procedure in their original announcement.
Buehler, 28, finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Voting last season but has had multiple arm problems this season. When it was clear that the forearm strain would sideline Buehler for up to three months, he underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow — a problem he said had plagued him for the past few seasons.
The arm problems have limited Buehler to 65 innings in 2022, during which time he has posted a 4.02 ERA with a career low of 21.2%. By his high standards, they’re pedestrian numbers — both about league average production among MLB starting pitchers (4.09 ERA, 21.4% strikeout rate).
Buehler, who dates back to his first full season in the big league in 2018, has established himself as a rock in the Dodgers’ rotation and one of the most talented arms in the National League. He ranks 23rd in majors in innings played from 2018-2022 – despite this year’s spate of missed time – and also ranks seventh in ERA (2.95), 25th in strikeout rate (27%) and 32nd in walk rate (6.2%). amidst a field of 152 qualified starting pitchers during that period.
Buehler will join both for now Clayton Kershaw (discomfort in the lower back) and dustin may (recovering from Tommy John’s surgery in 2021) on the injured list. Both May and Kershaw want to return before the end of the regular season. May recently knocked out 10 hitters over five innings in his fifth Triple-A start of the season. He built up to 70 parking spaces. Kershaw recently underwent an epidural injection and has resumed throwing, although there is no immediate timetable for his return to the major league mound.
With this trio on the shelf, the Dodgers will be looking Julius Urias, Tony Gonsolin, Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heney and newbie Ryan Pepiot as rotation options – although Pepiot could soon be ousted by May. Even without a pair of notable arms like Kershaw and Buehler, it’s an impressive group thanks to standout performances from Gonsolin (2.24 ERA, 116 1/3 innings), Anderson (2.81 ERA, 128 1/3 innings), and Heaney (1.16 ERA, 32.3% strikeout rate in 31 innings).
Apparently unable to get Buehler into a hopeful postseason rotation, the group of Urias, Gonsolin and Kershaw is still an impressive top three, with May, Anderson and Heaney also considered potential playoff starters. The broader question for the Dodgers is what Buehler’s recovery and 2023 outlook will be.
Even in the event that Buehler required Tommy John surgery and missed most of the 2023 season — which, to be perfectly clear, was not stated or even implied by the team — he would still be a suspension that will be posted must have a contract. The 2022 campaign was the second of a two-year, $8 million deal that bought out Buehler’s first two years of arbitration. He’ll be Arb-able four times as a Super Two player, meaning he’s got two raises left. Due to this year’s limited workload, he’ll only be eligible for a modest $4.25 million raise, making it a no-brainer for the Dodgers to keep him in the herd.
However, the extent of Buehler’s recovery period will certainly impact the Dodgers’ offseason direction and determine the level of aggression with which they pursue rotational aid. The Dodgers are currently ahead of Kershaw, Anderson and Heaney, all potentially running as free agents, so they’ll definitely be in the mix to start pitching this offseason.