The Dodgers announced Monday that right-hander Walker Buehler will undergo season-ending surgery on his right elbow on August 23rd. He has been out since June 10 after being diagnosed with a Grade 2 flexor strain. Fabian Ardaya of The Athletics 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 procedure is done.
That injury initially called for a six- to eight-week suspension from pitching, and the Dodgers must have hoped that Buehler might be able to return in late September and/or possibly in the postseason. Instead, he won’t pitch again until next season at the earliest. Further details are unclear, as the team declined to provide details about the nature of the procedure in its initial announcement.
Buehler, 28, finished fourth in National League Cy Young voting last season but has now had multiple arms this season. After it was clear the forearm strain would sideline Buehler for three months, he underwent an arthroscopic procedure to remove a bone spur from his elbow — something he said had plagued him for the past few seasons.
The arm issue(s) limited Buehler to 65 innings in 2022, during which time he posted a 4.02 ERA with a career-low 21.2% strikeout rate. They are pedestrian numbers by his lofty standards – both roughly in line with the league-average production among MLB starting pitchers (4.09 ERA, 21.4% strikeout rate).
Going into his first full big league season, in 2018, Buehler established himself as a rock in the Dodgers’ rotation and as one of the most talented arms in the National League. He ranks 23rd in the Majors in innings pitched from 2018-22 — even with this year’s glut of missed time — and also ranks seventh in ERA (2.95), 25th in strikeouts (27%) and 32nd in walking (6.2%). in the middle of a field of 152 qualified starting pitchers at that time.
For now, Buehler will join both Clayton Kershaw (lower back discomfort) and Dustin May (recovering from 2021 Tommy John surgery) on the injured list. Both May and Kershaw are expected to return before the end of the regular season. May recently punched out 10 hitters over five innings in his fifth Triple-A start of the season. He pitched up to 70 pitches. Kershaw, meanwhile, recently underwent an epidural injection and has resumed pitching, though there is no immediate timetable for his return to the major league mound.
With that trio on the shelf, the Dodgers will be watching Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin, Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney and a novice Ryan Pepiot as rotation options – although Pepiot could soon be pushed out before May. Even absent a pair of big-name arms like Kershaw and Buehler, it’s a formidable group thanks to breakout performances from each of Gonsolin (2.24 ERA, 116 1/3 innings pitched), Anderson (2.81 ERA, 128 1/3 innings pitched) and Heaney (1.16 ERA, 32.3% strikeout rate in 31 innings).
Obviously, not being able to pencil Buehler into promising postseason rotation spikes, but the group of Urias, Gonsolin and Kershaw is still a formidable top three, with May, Anderson and Heaney all standing as potential playoff runners as well. The broader question for the Dodgers is just what Buehler’s recovery and outlook will be for 2023.
Even in the event that Buehler required Tommy John surgery and needed to miss the majority of the 2023 season — which, to be emphatically clear, has not been indicated or even implied by the team — he would still be a lock to be offered. a contract The 2022 campaign was the second of a two-year, $8MM deal buying out Buehler’s first two arbitration years. He will be tree-eligible four times as a Super Two player, meaning he has two upgrades. Due to this year’s limited workload, he will only receive a modest increase in his $4.25MM salary, making it a no-brainer for the Dodgers to keep him in the fold.
That said, the extent of Buehler’s recovery period will certainly affect the Dodgers’ offseason direction and inform the level of aggression with which they pursue rotation relief. The Dodgers currently see Kershaw, Anderson and Heaney all potentially walking as free agents, so they will certainly be in the mix for starting pitching help this offseason.